What all the really cool kids are doing right now


It’s CRISPR/Cas. I’m feeling a bit square because I’m not doing it yet. But maybe you’re so squaresville that you don’t even know what the heck it is. You’re saved like a hipster at a flea market: here’s a primer on CRISPR/Cas so you can pretend to be one of the with-it kids.

Simply put, this is a tool that combines targeting information that homes in on a precise location within the genome (that’s the CRISPR part), with the ability to generate DNA breaks at that site once it arrives there (that’s Cas’s job). Such tools are integral to the process of gene editing, because the ability to interrupt a continuous strand of DNA at a specific location is the first step to altering the information encoded there. There are other gene editing tools currently in use in research labs, but CRISPR/Cas has quickly gained popularity for the very practical reason that it’s a bit easier and less expensive to use than the other options.

There’s a lot more at that link, including an explanation of how CRISPR/Cas lets you edit genes. This is fast becoming one of those ubiquitous tools in molecular biology — if you don’t know how it works, you’ll be like those sad people in the 1980s who didn’t understand PCR.


  1. Larry says

    I reached Level 9 Genome Master playing this but lost it all when the Gene Splicer gang tore apart my DNA sequences looking for treasure.

  2. says

    Causing much ethical disputation about designer babies and genetic enhancement. (Currently officially considered a no-no, plus we don’t know enough about genome->phenotype to really do it yet, but it may come.) Perhaps worth a look here.

  3. rathburn says

    Feng Zhang gave a talk at my school and man was he ever impressive. Got a teaching gig at MIT without a postdoc, and a full quarter of his papers are in either Science or Nature.

  4. Necandum says

    I love Crispr/Cas! It finally feels like a proper step into the genomics era, where the DNA can actually be manipulated with some accuracy. I got the impression that TALENs where even better though, are they more finnicky/expensive?

  5. yoav says

    TALENs have some advantages, such as not requiring a PAM element, which restrict were you can target Cas9, and being able to generate different DNA binding domain that target different length of DNA sequence. On the other hand you have to reclone the DBD any time you want to target a new DNA sequence which, in the system I used, required about 50 different plasmids, two cloning steps, and at least a week of work. Compare that to CRISPR where all I need is to order a pair of 20nt oligos and from the moment I open the tubes I can have a new gRNA expression vector ready to be transformed into E.Coli for propagation in 3hrs.

  6. says

    CRISPR/Cas is not “a bit” cheaper, easier, and faster than other approaches. It is *much* cheaper, easier, and faster than other approaches. There is little doubt that a Nobel Prize will be awarded for the discovery and tool development of CRISPR/Cas.