Precise CRISPR editing by using ‘jumping genes’ to introduce DNA

CRISPR DNA Transposon
A new approach called CRISPR-associated transposase (CAST) likely to be the best approach when treating a hereditary disease

The transposon system guides CRISPR to a defined DNA site

t’s the best phrase for biologists who know even more than they’re saying. Since James Watson and Francis Crick finished their 1953 work on the double helix by coyly stating “it has not eluded our attention” that the breakthrough may clarify how DNA operates as the genetics molecule, other researchers have dropped that paragraph into papers and ended up being as foresight.

CRISPR can be used with a ‘jumping gene’ to supply a DNA cargo

It appears much more specific and also reliable than regular CRISPR. It’s just a primary step, but it’s truly motivating

In a 2017 research work, for example, four biologists published that “it has not eluded our attention” that an amusing little ‘jumping gene’ may be used for accurate genome editing, giving CRISPR a hand at a task it battles to do: put a strand of DNA in position of a disease-causing sequence, which for some hereditary diseases could be the only course to a cure.

The primary author of that research has been seeking before to reuse the ‘jumping gene’, yet he was defeated on Thursday by CRISPR leader Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute and MIT. In a Science paper that moved from submission to approval in just 4 weeks (more than 3 months is far more normal), Zhang and his collaborators summarize transforming a ‘jumping gene’ – also known as a transposon, or ‘jumping gene’ – right into a tiny TaskRabbit job: With help from CRISPR enzymes, it rushes over to the part of the genome whose address it is provided and supplies a cargo of DNA.

Feng Zhang Broad
Feng Zhang is a core institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT

Zhang’s group did this work in bacteria, yet various other genome-editing scientists declared the system might quite possibly operate in human cells, also, particularly for repairing a hereditary disease. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biologist of Oregon Health and Science University, who was the first researcher to use CRISPR in human embryos in the US said: “I think it’s something that might be made use for therapy”. He also added, “It could even be extremely crucial” treating disease with genome editing and enhancing, because “it appears much more specific and also reliable than regular CRISPR. It’s just a primary step, but it’s truly motivating.”

Insertion of DNA by CRISPR-associated transposase without DNA thread

This transposon, called Tn7, was found many years earlier in bacteria. Generally, transposons are bits of DNA that rest within a genome, however, for somewhat unknown reasons can reduce themselves out of their initial place and jump to another one.

Tn7 takes advantage of CRISPR enzyme Cas12 to guide it to its next site. Since the 2017 research work, researches have been trying to identify ways to control where the ‘jumping gene’ hop to. Building a new guide molecule could allow researchers to manage where the DNA introduces itself in the genome.

That’s primarily what Zhang’s team accomplished. Beginning with Tn7 from the bacteria, they produced new guide molecules to guide it to a defined address in the genomes of bacteria and introduce its package of DNA there. To have a better sense, the 1 percent success rate of DNA insertion accomplished with regular CRISPR, the ‘jumping gene’ system achieved 80 percent.

Most importantly, the insertion did not involve shredding the genome. These “double-stranded DNA breaks” typically induce genomic damage, with whole pieces of chromosomes removed and dumped into -new DNA regions – something that could trigger cancer in some individuals. Any genome-editing technology that stays clear of double-stranded breaks might as a result have safety benefits.

Transposons could become a component of the CRISPR toolbox

“As a research study, it does a fantastic job revealing the capacity of these systems” commented microbiologist Joseph Peters of Cornell University, the primary author of the 2017 PNAS paper forecasting that transposons may become component of the CRISPR toolbox. “Now it isn’t completely clear if this certain system will work for genome editing,” considering that some characteristics of Tn7 could limit how effectively it operates in organisms apart from bacteria, however, Tn7 “is interesting as a possible genome editor.”

Zhang has named the system “CRISPR-associated transposase” or CAST. He and Jonathan Strecker, one of the co-authors of the study, have submitted a patent on it.

It appears much more specific and also reliable than regular CRISPR. It’s just a primary step, but it’s truly motivating

The jumping-gene variation of CRISPR is more than likely to be the best approach when treating a hereditary disease that requires restoring the gene function by changing its DNA. CRISPR attempts to do that by reducing out the mutation (like Word correcting out a misspelled word) and supplying up the right letters. However, DNA is as hesitant to open up and accept the replacement.

CAST appears to have no such problem placing DNA. When the researchers programmed it to 48 targets in the E. coli genome, CAST hit 29 of them. (Generally, CRISPR editing doesn’t work at all times). It made the required edit, inserting DNA, in 80 percent of bacteria.

One red flag was that CAST places DNA right into some places it wasn’t intended to, an “off-target” issue that also troubles regular CRISPR. The 99-to-1 proportion of on-target to off-target edits appears high, but further research will be required to show whether even a single off-target DNA modification is sufficient to damage.


Jonathan Strecker, Alim Ladha, Zachary Gardner, Jonathan L. Schmid-Burgk, Kira S. Makarova, Eugene V. Koonin, Feng Zhang. RNA-guided DNA insertion with CRISPR-associated transposases. Science. Published online Jun 6, 2019. doi: 10.1126/science.aax9181.