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This Protein Could Change Biotech Forever

A tiny molecular machine used by bacteria to kill attacking viruses could change the way that scientists edit the DNA of plants, animals and fungi, revolutionizing genetic engineering. The protein, called Cas9, is quite simply a way to more accurately cut a piece of DNA.

“This could significantly accelerate the rate of discovery in all areas of biology, including gene therapy in medicine, the generation of improved agricultural goods, and the engineering of energy-producing microbes,” says Luciano Marraffini of Rockefeller University.

The biotech revolution that created drugs like EPO for anemia and interferon for multiple sclerosis and crops like Monsanto‘s Roundup Ready soybeans was based on relatively crude methods for inserting a gene from one organism into another. For a decade some biologists have been touting a new approach, dubbed synthetic biology, that makes more genetic alterations in order to treat living things more like machines that can be engineered. The ability to make modular changes in the DNA of bacteria and primitive algae has resulted in drug and biofuel companies such as Amyris and LS9. But figuring out how to make changes in the genomes of more complicated organisms has been tough.
 
 

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