A2: (Post 2) Microbes in the News

New CRISPR tool can detect tiny amounts of viruses

Source: Science  Magazine

Date: April 13th, 2017

Link:  https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/new-crispr-tool-can-detect-tiny-amounts-viruses

Summary:  SHERLOCK, or specific high sensitivity enzymatic reporter unlocking, has been found to be a highly effective diagnostic tool. While the CRISPR genome editing applications that we hear so much about uses a DNA cutting enzyme known as Cas9, SHERLOCK uses an RNA cutting enzyme called Cas13a. The researchers have shown CRISPR-Cas13a to detect viral and bacterial infections, cancer mutations, and SNP’s. It is said to be 1 million times more effective than ELISA, as well as faster because it detects to the attomolar level (10^-18), and it can be done outside of the lab, which is useful for poorer countries.

Connections:  In the most recent lab, we used ELISA to test and see who was spreading a specific disease. ELISA is currently the most widely used diagnostic tool.

Critical Analysis:  I find the potential for this to be quite interesting. Being able to take a sample somebody’s blood, saliva, or urine, have it transcribed into RNA, and within a few hours know if someone has an infectious disease or severe mutation like cancer, is exciting (and perhaps a little frightening). While we have methods such as ELISA to detect the presence of infectious diseases, this new method is so much more sensitive (detects diseases and mutations to the attomolar level) and accurate. Not to mention, it doesn’t require a lot of laboratory technology, meaning it can be used in resource poor areas where infectious disease is rampant. This specific article did a decent job of explaining the scientific concepts behind Cas13a, other than perhaps  oversimplifying some of the science (“jiggered to make it work with DNA”, for example). I understand that sometimes this can help the general population  better understand the concept though. Although, it does assume that one has a general idea of  what CRISPR is and the general history behind it, which might be confusing for some people who’ve never heard of it. Overall, I think it is effective in helping people gain a better idea of what CRISPR-Cas13a can do though.

Question:  What are some other potential uses for CRISPR-Case13a? Also, the targets for the enzyme have to be incredibly specific, so how exactly does Cas13a work in finding mutations like SNP’s? I’m a little lost in how that mechanism works in that regard.

*I did some additional research after reading this article and kind of answered one of my own questions (although I am sure there are plenty more applications to be discovered!). If you want to know more, I recommend the reading following article (it has a longer list of discovered potential uses):