CRISPR enzymes are like super scissors: they cut, delete, and add genes to a specific kind of cell, one at a time. But now, UC Berkeley faculty and Biosciences Area researchers have figured out how to add or modify genes within a microbial community of many different species, coining the phrase, “community editing.”
In celebration of the Lab’s 90th anniversary, 16 of our most popular “90 Breakthroughs” faced off in the first ever Berkeley Lab Breakthroughs Bracket Challenge on Twitter. After four weeks of public voting online, the top breakthrough was “Created a Powerful Gene Editing Tool”—otherwise known as CRISPR!
Biochemist Jennifer Doudna, a professor at UC Berkeley and faculty scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division, has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “the development of a method for genome editing.” She shares the Nobel Prize with co-discoverer Emmanuelle Charpentier, who currently serves as the scientific and managing director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin. In 2012, Doudna and Charpentier’s research team detailed the underlying mechanisms of the CRISPR-Cas9 system – a component of the bacterial immune system that defends against invading viruses – and explained how it can be programmed to cut DNA at a target sequence.
UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab scientists have expanded the CRISPR gene-editing toolkit with the addition of a new, compact CRISPR-associated (Cas) protein—the RNA-guided “scissors” that snip DNA—and a modification of the Cas9 protein to give it an “on” switch for better control.
While sequencing gut bacteria from people in Bangladesh, Berkeley Lab’s Jillian Banfield discovered phages, viruses that infect and reproduce inside bacteria, twice as big as any previously found in humans. She and her colleagues found the snippets of megaphage DNA in a CRISPR segment of one type of bacteria, Prevotella, that is uncommon in people eating a high-fat, low-fiber Westernized diet. Banfield and her team named the clade of megaphages “Lak phage” after the Laksam Upazila area of Bangladesh where they were found.