Super-scissors for DNA

10 July 2012

Interview with

Nell Barrie

Kat::  The final story that we've got is a really nice paper published in Science.  This is from Jennifer Doudna at the University of California Berkeley and I love this just because of the potential of the story, and this is researchers who've been looking at bacteria and looking at how bacteria use certain molecules like molecular scissors to snip up their DNA and glue it together, and it helps them develop different characteristics to help them survive.  But they've actually looked at these molecular scissors and found out how they work.  And they think that possibly, you could use this technology to make programmable scissors so you could cut up human DNA, animal DNA, and basically glue it back together in any kind of way you like.

Nell::  That's pretty cool.  I mean, I think it's kind of what I think of as genetic engineering.  I guess you think you'll just put together whichever bit of the DNA that you want, but actually, in reality, that's not really possible yet.  So I suppose this is taking us a little bit closer to real designer genetic tailoring or whatever you might like to call it.

Kat::  So I remember when I was in the lab - and this is some time ago so things may have changed - but if you wanted to do genetic engineering and stick different bits of DNA together, you had to look at the sequence and there were only certain sequences that you could cut using enzymes.  Things have probably moved on now, but I think there is some restriction in the sequences that you can cut and glue together.  So having a different set of technology could really be exciting.

Nell::  Yeah, and I guess that sort of eventual implications would be that you could be create these kind of designer organisms like maybe, bacteria that degrades nasty environmental toxins, or produce things that we need for drugs, or all kinds of exciting applications.  Because we know that bacteria and fungi have all these abilities and it's just about, could we harness them to do the things we want, I guess.

Kat::  Watch this space, I think because it is still very early days for that.

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