Viruses cannot only cause illnesses in humans, they also infect bacteria. Those protect themselves with a kind of ‘immune system’ which – simply put – consists of specific sequences in the genetic material of the bacteria and a suitable enzyme.
Streptococcus pyogenes is one of the bacteria in which the HZI scientists have studied the CRISPR-Cas system. © HZI / Rohde
It detects foreign DNA, which may originate from a virus, cuts it up and thus makes the invaders harmless. Scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig have now shown that the dual-RNA guided enzyme Cas9 which is involved in the process has developed independently in various strains of bacteria.
This enhances the potential of exploiting the bacterial immune system for genome engineering.
Even though it has only been discovered in recent years the immune system with the cryptic name ‘CRISPR-Cas’ has been attracting attention of geneticists and biotechnologists as it is a promising tool for genetic engineering. CRISPR is short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats, whereas Cas simply stands for the CRISPR-associated protein. Throughout evolution, this molecule has developed independently in numerous strains of bacteria. This is now shown by Prof Emmanuelle Charpentier and her colleagues at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) who published their finding in the international open access journal Nucleic Acids Research.
The CRISPR-Cas-system is not only valuable for bacteria but also for working in the laboratory. It detects a specific sequence of letters in the genetic code and cuts the DNA at this point. Thus, scientists can either remove or add genes at the interface. By this, for instance, plants can be cultivated which are resistant against vermins or fungi. Existing technologies doing the same thing are often expensive, time consuming or less accurate. In contrast to them the new method is faster, more precise and cheaper, as fewer components are needed and it can target longer gene sequences.
Additionally, this makes the system more flexible, as small changes allow the technology to adapt to different applications. “The CRISPR-Cas-system is a very powerful tool for genetic engineering,“ says Emmanuelle Charpentier, who came to the HZI from Umeå and was awarded with the renowned Humboldt Professorship in 2013. “We have analysed and compared the enzyme Cas9 and the dual-tracrRNAs-crRNAs that guide this enzyme site-specifically to the DNA in various strains of bacteria.” Their findings allow them to classify the Cas9 proteins originating from different bacteria into groups. Within those the CRISPR-Cas systems are exchangeable which is not possible between different groups.
This allows for new ways of using the technology in the laboratory: The enzymes can be combined and thereby a variety of changes in the target-DNA can be made at once. Thus, a new therapy for genetic disorders caused by different mutations in the DNA of the patient could be on the horizon. Furthermore, the method could be used to fight the AIDS virus HIV which uses a receptor of the human immune cells to infect them. Using CRISPR-Cas, the gene for the receptor could be removed and the patients could become immune to the virus. However, it is still a long way until this aim will be reached.
Still those examples show the huge potential of the CRISPR-Cas technology. “Some of my colleagues already compare it to the PCR,” says Charpentier. This method, developed in the 1980s, allows scientists to ‘copy’ nucleic acids and therefore to manifold small amounts of DNA to such an extent that they can be analysed biochemically. Without this ground-breaking technology a lot of experiments we consider to be routine would have never been possible.
Charpentier was not looking for new molecular methods in the first place. “Originally, we were looking for new targets for antibiotics. But we found something completely different,” says Charpentier. This is not rare in science. In fact some of the most significant scientific discoveries have been made incidentally or accidentally.Original publication:
Nucleic Acids Research, 2013, DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkt1074
The department “Regulation in Infection Biology” studies how the expression of bacterial RNA and bacterial proteins is controlled. Both factors contribute to the establishment and the course of an infection.The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
Dr. Jan Grabowski | Helmholtz-Zentrum
Nerves control the body’s bacterial community
26.09.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing
26.09.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.
Graphene is up to the job
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
26.09.2017 | Life Sciences
26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.09.2017 | Information Technology