Science & Technology News

Biologists develop new methods for editing genomes

A team of leading Russian biologists led by the head of the Department of Molecular Biology, Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Razin, embarked on a scientific megaproject to develop new systems for editing genomes at different levels of its organization: from nucleotide sequences to the spatial structure of DNA molecules. The project is supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation within the framework of the National Project "Science and Universities".

Methods for editing genomes have been developing by leaps and bounds in recent decades. Even if 10 years ago, scientists had vector bacteria and gene guns in their arsenal that modify genomes in arbitrary places, now the main tool is high-precision CRISPR technology. But it is not without drawbacks either: firstly, this protein system is quite large and simply “does not fit” into some vectors, secondly, only DNA can be edited with its help, and it is not suitable for working with RNA, and, in- Thirdly, this technology is now becoming the subject of patent disputes.

A large interdisciplinary team of biologists, which includes scientists from three divisions of Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov, as well as researchers from the National Research Center "Kurchatov Institute", began to search for new technologies for editing genomes. The scientists plan to start looking at bacterial CRISPR loci, which have recently given rise to the popular CRISPR/Cas9 technology. Also in the plans is the study of the architecture of genomes, the search for ways to change their spatial structure and methods for regulating the work of the genome using argonaut proteins. Such research could lead to breakthroughs in the agro-biotech industry and in the treatment of genetic diseases.

“In fact, genomic editing technologies, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, are now greatly underestimated,” says the project leader, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Razin. “With their help, you can not only make changes to the genomes, but also manage the implementation of genetic information, generally doing without changes in the genome. When you do standard genome editing, it's almost always not completely selective: changes are made to the genome not only where you want it, but also in several other places. If you modify the standard technology and make it work as a "regulator" of gene expression, you will not have any errors. As part of our project, we pay a lot of attention to just such modified versions of CRISPR technology.”

The real sector of the Russian economy is interested in the results of the project implementation. In particular, within the framework of the project, it is planned to create lines of transgenic plants from the list of major agricultural crops, develop a set of genomic and embryonic technologies for animal husbandry, and breed strains of microorganisms producing essential amino acids. A unique collection of laboratory mice with altered genomes is being created to test new methods of genome editing and modeling of human hereditary diseases. A completely new nuclease of the Cas family has already been developed, which is extremely promising for use in agriculture. A patent application is currently being prepared to protect this nuclease.

Biologists develop new methods for editing genomes