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Francisco Javier Novo Villaverde, Full Professor of department of Biochemistry and Genetics of the University of Navarra.

CRISPR wins Nobel Prize

Thu, 08 Oct 2020 09:28:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper
Javier Novo

Our genome contains three billion letters and it is not easy to modify just one of them, as if it were a word processor. Nevertheless, the efforts of research in recent years have made possible the emergence of genome editing technologies. The most recent one is known as CRISPR/Cas9 and was developed in 2012 by the researchers who have just been awarded the award Nobel Prize at Chemistry.

CRISPR is a correction technology Genetics that basically consists of two components: a protein and a ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule. When this complex reaches the interior of the cell, the RNA guide it to the specific place in the genome where it must act; the protein cuts the DNA at that point, leaving two free ends, and then the cell's own repair machinery fuses these ends. If another molecule is also included to serve as a template, during this repair process a letter of the original genome can be changed by another in a very specific way, giving as result the "editing" or correction Genetics.

CRISPR editing Genetics is still in the process of development and optimization, as some of its limitations are being overcome. Among other problems, the machinery does not always cut only at the targeted site, but also elsewhere in the genome. Even so, the research of recent years has significantly improved this technique.

It is not difficult to understand the enormous expectation that CRISPR has caused in the world of biotechnology. Compared to traditional techniques for generating transgenics and genetically modified organisms, CRISPR has quickly established itself as the fastest and most efficient technique for introducing modifications into the genomes of plants and animals. Today, the CRISPR "zoo" includes chickens whose eggs do not cause allergies, sheep or ferrets that reproduce human diseases, mosquitoes unable to transmit malaria; in addition to other applications, of more dubious utility, such as the de-extinction of the Siberian mammoth or the creation of small pigs that are marketed as pets. In biomedicine we have also seen remarkable advances such as the cure of hemophilia or muscular dystrophy in animals at laboratory, paving the way for clinical trials in humans.

Given the enormous expectations created by the rapid development of CRISPR, several international summits have been held since 2015 to discuss in depth the scientific, social, legal and ethical issues involved in editing human genomes. The awarding of this award should help keep the conversation alive about the role of biotechnology in shaping the society we will bequeath to future generations.