Globally, some 700,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections ever year; by 2050, that number could be 10 million, according to the United Nations. To find new ways to fight pathogenic microorganisms, scientists are looking to Crispr, the gene-editing tool, according to the New York Times.
“Crispr is a specialized region of DNA that creates what amount to genetic scissors – enzymes that allow the cell (or a scientist) to precisely edit other DNA or its sister molecule, RNA…Crispr was originally discovered in bacteria, where it helps keep track of past injury. When a virus attacks, the bacterium stores small chunks of the viral genome within its own DNA. This helps the bacterium recognize viral infections when they occur again. Then, using Crispr-associated enzymes, it can disarm the virus and prevent the infection from spreading…today researchers are looking to Crispr to edit bacteria and viruses that infect humans and create new treatments.”
In a recent study, researchers successfully used a Crispr-associated enzyme called Cas9 to eliminate a species of Salmonella. They programmed the Cas9 to view the bacterium as the enemy and forced Salmonella to make lethal cuts to its own genome.
Some companies are now exploring Crispr-based antibiotics that might be delivered through viruses engineered so that they cannot reproduce or cause infections themselves, to name just one approach.
“Now researchers face the challenge of demonstrating that Crispr antibacterial and antiviral drugs are effective in living animals and in humans, not just in the lab, and that they will be cheaper than conventional therapies.”
1. Sheikh K. Is Crispr the Next Antibiotic? The New York Times. Oct 28, 2019.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/28/health/crispr-genetics-antibiotic-resistance.html. Accessed Dec 3, 2019.