Scientists can modify functions of genes more precisely with a new gene editing method that uses light, a new study says.
"This method may allow people to engineer genes in cells or animals with better spatial and temporal control than ever before," said researcher Alexander Deiters, University of Pittsburgh, US.
The improved control over the time and location at which a gene would be manipulated may help eliminate "off-target effects", Deiters said.
In practice, the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats of DNA base sequences) method has shown tremendous promise to enable researchers to treat cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia, create laboratory animals that mimic human disease, and create a strain of wheat resistant to powdery mildew.
The researchers have found that a lysine residue (lysine is an amino acid) in Cas9 can be replaced with a light-activated analog.
The new approach generates a Cas9 protein that is functionally inactive, so called "caged," until the cage is removed through light exposure, activating the enzyme and thereby activating gene editing.
"Previously, if you wanted to knock out a gene, you had limited control over where and when it would happen. Engineering a light switch into Cas9 provides a more precise editing tool," Deiters noted.