The gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 can now be used as a flexible and accessible means to target and track the movement of RNA in living cells. This new method, presented in Cell, could eventually be used to study a wide range of disease-related RNA processes and to manipulate gene transcription for disease modeling.
“We are just beginning to see the implications of genome engineering using the CRISPR technology, but many diseases, including cancer and autism, are linked to problems with another fundamental biological molecule: RNA,” says senior study author Gene Yeo of the University of California, San Diego. “Future developments of this work could enable researchers to measure other features of RNA processing or support therapeutic approaches to correct disease-causing RNA behaviors.”
Other attempts to engineer proteins to recognize certain RNA sequences have lacked specificity and required labor-intensive procedures. Meanwhile, short nucleic acids called molecular beacons are limited to imaging applications and are difficult to deliver into cells. Protein-binding molecules called aptamers enable RNA tracking in living cells but are limited in the number of RNA sequences that they can recognize.
This image shows a cell carrying an RNA-targeted Cas9 system that reveals the distribution of beta actin mRNA in the cytoplasm
Image Credit: David Nelles of the University of California, San Diego