CRISPR: a powerful gene editing technology

CRISPR/Cas 9 is the latest genome editing tool that is being hailed as the biggest molecular biology breakthrough since PCR. CRISPR is a targeted genome editing tool so that precise changes can be made in the genome of living cells. Laboratories around the world are using this genome editing technology to permanently modify genes.

There are a number of Cas enzymes but the most well-known one is called Cas9 that uses a guide RNA molecule to home in on its target DNA, then edits the DNA to disrupt genes or insert desired sequences. CRISPR is making it possible to edit genes in many more organisms, including filamentous fungi. CRISPR’s ability to precisely edit existing DNA sequences without the presence of foreign DNA is another attractive trait that in some countries does not require regulation for this type of genetic engineering of certain organisms such as crop plants. The use of this gene editing technology to modify endophyte strains of grasses has wide applications for agriculture from functional genomics studies (the study of the functions and interactions of genes and proteins) for advancing our understanding of the endophyte-plant symbiotic interaction to the improvement of selected endophyte strains. For example it will be possible to modify the production of selected bioactive compounds produced by specific endophyte strains through gene editing.

The benefits of such a genetically altered strain to the farmer could be the removal of animal toxic compounds expressed by endophyte strains which provide a wider pest protection range to the pasture grass through the production of new bioactive compounds.