A groundbreaking technique has been developed by a team of microbiologists at Montana State University. Their innovative method involves utilizing a cutting enzyme and an RNA repair enzyme to directly modify the genome of an RNA virus, a feat previously challenging to achieve.
In contrast to the well-known CRISPR gene-editing tools used for DNA, this approach focuses on RNA editing. Traditionally, RNA editing involved converting RNA into DNA, making edits, and then converting it back to RNA. However, the Montana State researchers have devised a more direct and efficient method.
Their method employs a type III CRISPR system derived from Streptococcus thermophilus, a bacterium commonly found in dairy products. This system precisely identifies the target RNA for modification. Once the target RNA is cut, DNA splints are utilized to bring the separated strands back together. The rejoining process is facilitated by a viral ligase enzyme.
To validate their technique, the research team successfully made specific deletions in the RNA of a Sindbis virus, known for its green fluorescent RNA segment. Removing this segment allowed the virus to survive, but it lost its fluorescence.
This breakthrough holds immense promise for advancing RNA research, particularly in understanding virulence and other functions in viruses. It may also pave the way for combating drug-resistant viruses and exploring novel therapies for RNA-based disorders. The potential applications of this innovative RNA editing technique are indeed far-reaching.