CRISPR – Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats- as become an invaluable tools for bioengineers, allowing them to cut, add, replace any string of DNA (and more recently RNA) to meet specific needs. Basically what they do is to alter a DNA sequence so that it will instruct the cell to manufacture a specific protein, that in turns will result in a change of behaviour/function of the cell.
With this tool it has been possible to engineer bacteria to eat oil spill and solve pollution problems. More recently CRISPR has been used to cure a genetic disease and the promise is to finally solve pathologies related to genetic abnormalities.
One of the big issue facing researchers and bioengineers is to understand the role played by different genes in the manifestation of a disease (an abnormality). This is extremely difficult since in most cases there are several genes involved (over a hundred have been associated to autism syndrome) and it matters the order in which genes are expressed (activated).
Now a paper published on Nature on a research (funded among others by Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative) is reporting that a joint team of researchers (from Gladstone Institute of Data Science and Biotech, Harvard Medical School Dept. of Genetics, University of Washington -Seattle_ and Duke University) have found a way to use CRISPR to record the order of gene activation in a living cell. Once the CRISPR “tape” has recorded the sequential activation of genes it can be extracted from the cell and analysed giving scientists a throve of information previously unavailable (and basically impossible to harvest).
The system uses CRISPR to create a sort of barcode that is unique to each activated gene and the sequence of barcodes corresponds to the sequence of activated genes. They called the system Retro-Cascorder (to emphasise the role played by CRISPR Cas).
This is expected to create a completely new set of knowledge that could allow the design of a cure (like blocking the expression of a gene in a sequence).