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CRISPR–CAS9 gene-editing complex from Streptococcus pyogenes.

The Cas9 enzyme (red, artist’s impression) snips DNA (orange). Improved versions of Cas9 promise to expand the usefulness of the CRISPR–Cas9 genome-editing technique. Credit: Alamy

CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing

All-purpose enzymes boost CRISPR’s powers

The gene-editing system could target a broad swathe of the genome with the help of versatile enzymes.

Newly developed enzymes allow the CRISPR–Cas9 genome-editing system to target a huge range of mutations in human cells — an advance that could lead to the development of CRISPR-based treatments for human disease.

Conventional CRISPR complexes include an enzyme called Cas9, which recognizes and cuts a target stretch of DNA. To edit DNA sequences, the Cas9 enzyme must detect a short genetic sequence, called a protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM), embedded in the target DNA. The most commonly used Cas9 variant doesn’t work properly unless it detects a PAM that has a chemical makeup known as NGG.

Benjamin Kleinstiver at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues engineered Cas9 enzymes that can recognize a wide variety of PAMs, not just the NGG sequence. The authors used their new enzymes to edit the genomes of human cells in a laboratory dish, targeting many previously inaccessible regions of the genome. The updated system could correct mutations associated with conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and chronic pain.

The approach could make the vast majority of the human genome editable, the researchers say.

More Research Highlights...

Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

The intestinal contents of a man killed in a prehistoric ritual (clockwise from upper left): barley, charred food that had been encrusted in a clay pot, flax seeds and sand. Credit: Peter Steen Henriksen, the Danish National Museum

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The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
Illustration of Earth with white lines showing the magnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field (depicted as white lines in this artist’s impression) can be studied with observations from a constellation of commercial satellites. Credit: Mikkel Juul Jensen/Science Photo Library

Geophysics

Telecoms satellites’ new purpose: spying on Earth’s magnetic field

Clues to the forces generated by the planet’s core emerge from observations intended for satellite navigation.
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