Retron-Derived New Technology Revolutionizes Gene Editing in Human Cells

Genetic editing, the science of inserting, deleting, and replacing genetic sequences in DNA, has been evolving over the years. A research team from Gladstone Institute just discovered a new high in gene editing that can revolutionize molecular biology. This new technology has given scientists unprecedented leeway to change the gene sequences in DNA in living cells with the use of retrons. The study was published in the Journal Nature Chemical.

Retron-derived DNA

Retron-derived DNA. Image Courtesy of Nature Chemical Biology

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Retrons are specific DNA segments that function as a manufacturing plant for DNA. They mass produce template DNA from within the cells. Additionally, the CRISPR components can be delivered alongside retrons, as such the cells obtain all they need to edit genes at once. Senior author Dr. Seth Shipman agrees that the outcome of the research consolidates the fact that retrons are versatile and can be applied to different organisms.  In addition, retrons make it easier and faster for scientists to make very accurate modifications to genes.

The recent technologies for gene editing utilize the CRISPR system to resect select parts of the cellular genome and possibly replace template DNA [a novel gene material]. The template is fully integrated into the system when the cell repairs nicks in its structure.

Essentially, lab-manufactured template DNA is introduced to the genome after which Cas9 a genome cutting protein is introduced. However, both Cas9 and template DNA do not penetrate all the cells in the body, as such the CRISPR used in gene editing is not efficient. Lead author Santiago Lopez explains that the introduction of just one element can ease the operation and facilitate the commencement of new experiments.

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The retron is an evolutionary defense system of bacteria. The plan was to take advantage of this unique ability to manufacture templates for editing genes. To achieve this objective, Shipman’s team programmed the retrons of E. coli to mass-produce new variants. Afterward, the new variants were tested, and on testing the team noticed a series of changes, that increased the number of templates ten times. After this, the scientists tested this novel retron system for the very first time on yeast and human cells, and the results were remarkable in every case.

Also, the research confirmed the efficiency of this new editing system. Shipman says “Better and more precise editing ultimately means more effective and safer genomic medicines and more advanced fundamental research.”

Clinical Significance

The Retron system will enable scientists to work with the genes more effectively. Though it hasn’t been cleared to be used in humans, it is very possible that we could use this technology to cure rare genetic illnesses and mutations.

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Shipman and his team plan to experiment on other retron variations and to check the benefits of other retrons over E.coli’s.

Shipman, admits that scientists are exploiting different components of bacteria with aim of using them to help humans.


Precise genome editing across kingdoms of life using retron-derived DNA



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