This New Technology Could Unlock Our Understanding of Addiction
According to Forbes Magazine, a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 has provided researchers the ability to remove, alter, or add to gene sequences. Scientists have already utilized this tool to edit out disease-causing gene mutations in animal models, and research presented at the annual conference for the Society of Neuroscience predicts it will spark a $10 billion industry over the next 8 years. In addition to editing gene sequencing, “researchers are using CRISPR to understand how a certain protein affects genes that are linked to addiction”.
The Genetics Home Reference, part of the National U.S. Library of Medicine, claims that CRISPR-Cas9 was adapted from a “naturally occurring genome editing system in bacteria”. Genome editing is particularly of interest with preventing human diseases and exploring the ways in which genes interact with one another. Forbes Magazine notes that researchers can use this tool to switch genes “on or off” and observe the reward center in the brain of rodents, which could lead to further understanding of how addiction works in the human brain. What is this technology and how does it work?
Live Science claims that CRISPR stands for “clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”. With this, there are two distinct features: nucleotide repeats and spacers. Repeats are the building blocks of DNA, and spacers are the bits of DNA that are dispersed among the repeated intervals of DNA. Regarding bacteria, it is said that spacers are removed from viruses that may have attacked the organism and then serve as memories in the body’s database, enabling the bacteria to recognize the viruses and ward them off if they return in the future. With CRISPR, once the process has happened where the spacer is incorporated, and a virus attacks the sequence, the CRISPR tool transcribes and produces a DNA template consisting of single-stranded “RNA”.
CRISPR allows researchers to edit DNA sequencing to “edit out” viruses and once this happens, the tool’s “cut” or “break” in the sequence can be “tricked” into repairing the mechanisms with the changes the researchers want. There are two ways in which the repairing can happen: essentially “gluing” the pieces back together, or filling the gap created with nucleotides. “Gluing” is likely to cause more errors, and the second method basically incorporates a small strand of DNA back into the sequence.
It is said that CRISPR may be able to “short-cut” addiction in individuals by editing their DNA and removing the virus gene that may implicate it. However, more research is being conducted to determine the effectiveness and probability of utilizing this on humans.
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