CRISPR had a life before it became a gene-editing tool | Science News

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CRISPR had a life before it became a gene-editing tool

Natural CRISPR systems immunize bacteria from invading viruses, and more

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9:00am, April 5, 2017
phages

WEAPONS OF MASS EVOLUTION  Bacteria and archaea armed with CRISPR systems have been at war with viruses for eons. Here, hordes of viruses known as phages assault a bacterium to turn it into a virus-making factory.

It is the dazzling star of the biotech world: a powerful new tool that can deftly and precisely alter the structure of DNA. It promises cures for diseases, sturdier crops, malaria-resistant mosquitoes and more. Frenzy over the technique — known as CRISPR/Cas9 — is in full swing. Every week, new CRISPR findings are unfurled in scientific journals. In the courts, universities fight over patents. The media report on the breakthroughs as well as the ethics of this game changer almost daily.

But there is a less sequins-and-glitter side to CRISPR that’s just as alluring to anyone thirsty to understand the natural world. The biology behind CRISPR technology comes from a battle that has been raging for eons, out of sight and yet all around us (and on us, and in us).

The CRISPR editing tool has its origins in microbes —

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