Scientists discover DNA scissors in unlikely creatures

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Scientists at MIT have made an incredible breakthrough, discovering thousands of enzymes in a variety of species such as algae, snails, and amoebas, which have the ability to cut DNA in a programmed manner.

This significant find was announced in the journal Science Advances.

In essence, these enzymes, dubbed “Fanzors”, function somewhat like DNA scissors, with the capability to be instructed, or “programmed”, to snip DNA at specific points.

This is similar to another system you might have heard of, CRISPR, which also involves enzymes that can be programmed to cut DNA and has been widely utilized in genetic research.

CRISPR is based on a mechanism used by bacteria to defend themselves, and it has revolutionized the way scientists interact with and modify DNA, opening the doors to potential therapies and a deeper understanding of our genetic makeup.

Here’s a little backdrop: DNA, which carries our genetic information, is like a complex instruction manual for building and maintaining life.

Sometimes, to study, modify, or fix these instructions, scientists need the ability to “edit” this manual — which involves carefully cutting and modifying the DNA strands. The CRISPR system, and now Fanzors, offer tools to do this with precision, like meticulously editing a manuscript.

But Fanzors are different from the mechanisms of CRISPR in an exciting way – they’re found in eukaryotic organisms, a vast category of life that includes beings like plants, animals, fungi, and yes, humans too!

In contrast, the original CRISPR system is derived from prokaryotic organisms, like bacteria, which do not have a defined nucleus in their cells. Eukaryotic organisms do have a nucleus, where the DNA is neatly stored.

Why does this matter? It’s significant because, theoretically, enzymes from eukaryotic organisms like Fanzors might be more adept at working efficiently in other eukaryotic organisms, such as humans, since they come from a similar biological context.

Interestingly, the researchers, Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg, revealed that Fanzors were capable of acting on DNA sequences in human cells even without undergoing any fine-tuning, which is quite an astonishing feat.

The discovery journey of Fanzors is quite interesting too. Researchers found that these unique enzymes likely evolved from bacterial enzymes known as TnpBs.

There are indications that Fanzors were introduced into eukaryotic organisms through various pathways, possibly involving viruses and symbiotic bacteria, eventually evolving to adapt to their new cellular environments.

They even developed a mechanism to access the well-protected DNA within the cell nucleus.

In practical terms, this means the DNA-cutting Fanzors are not just restricted to their initial target; they’re able to cut other sequences in the DNA strand too.

This could be likened to a pair of scissors that not only cut where you tell them to but can also make additional snips where they might be useful or needed, all with a precision that prevents unintended genetic consequences.

Diving into the wide-ranging world of eukaryotic organisms, Abudayyeh and Gootenberg found a spectacular variety among Fanzors, identifying more than 3,600 of them, divided into five distinct families, hinting at a rich evolutionary history.

This opens up an incredibly exciting new realm in the field of genetic research and potential medical applications.

As we explore these newfound enzymatic scissors, it’s important to note the potential impact this discovery could have on genetic research and medical therapies in the future.

This isn’t just an advancement in our understanding of genetic science, but a step forward that could potentially lead to developing new, more efficient tools for research, and even medical treatments that capitalize on our ability to interact with and modify DNA.

In simpler words, we’ve found a new set of tools in our genetic toolbox, derived from the unlikeliest of creatures like algae and snails. And these tools, the Fanzors, may just hold the key to unlocking new possibilities in the world of genetic research and therapy.

In the hands of researchers and medical scientists, these Fanzors could one day play a role in developing innovative treatments for genetic disorders, aiding research that seeks to unravel the mysteries of our DNA, and potentially paving the way for further discoveries that could reshape our understanding of the genetic world.

So, here’s to the enchanting world of Fanzors – the newfound DNA scissors – and the fascinating journey ahead in exploring their capabilities and potential!

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Source: MIT.