Anti-CRISPR proteins could help put the brakes on gene editing

Scientists are exploring the proteins’ potential as a way to control CRISPR and reduce off-target effects.

CRISPR, the technology behind the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has revolutionized the life sciences. The method offers a cheap, fast, and easy way to make edits in precise spots in genomes and could be game changing for treating genetic disorders and cancer and for other applications. But CRISPR faces safety concerns because scientists have only limited ways to control the technique.

Now researchers have found that a dazzling variety of naturally occurring proteins, known as anti-CRISPRs, could offer ways to exercise that control. These proteins could potentially be delivered after gene therapy to stave off harmful side effects or help direct therapies to the right parts of the body. Anti-CRISPRs could also play a role in efforts to spread beneficial genes through a population—to control insects, for example. And they have several advantages over other CRISPR control methods; for example, they can be genetically encoded into a cell.

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