Researchers have discovered how Cpf1, a new molecular scissors unzip and cleave DNA. This member of the CRISPR-Cas family displays a high accuracy, capable of acting like a GPS in order to identify its destination within the intricate map of the genome. The high precision of Cpf1 will improve the use of this type of technology in repairing genetic damage and in other medical and biotechnological applications.
The team has succeeded in visualizing and describing how a new system for genome editing, known as Cpf1, works. This protein belongs to the Cas family and enables the cleavage of double stranded DNA, thus allowing the initiation of the genome modification process. The results of the study have been published in the journal Nature.
Researchers across the world are trying to perfect this genome editing technique with the aim of making it yet more precise and efficient. To achieve this, they have also focused on other proteins that specifically cut DNA, such as Cpf1, whose manipulation can direct them to specific locations in the genome. The team has achieved this using an X-ray Crystallography to decipher the molecular mechanisms controlling this process.
"We radiated the crystals of the Cpf1 protein using X-rays to be able to observe its structure at atomic resolution, enabling us to see all its components," points out the co-author of this study. "X-ray diffraction is one of the main biophysical techniques used to elucidate biomolecular structures."
According to co-author, "the main advantage of Cpf1 lies in its high specificity and the cleaving mode of the DNA, since it is possible to create staggered ends with the new molecular scissors, instead of blunt-ended breaks as is the case with Cas9, which facilitates the insertion of a DNA sequence."
"The high precision of this protein recognizing the DNA sequence on which it is going to act functions like a GPS, directing the Cpf1 system within the intricate map of the genome to identify its destination. In comparison with other proteins used for this purpose, it is also very versatile and easy to be reprogrammed," senior author adds.
The new technology "can also be used to modify microorganisms, with the aim of synthesizing the metabolites required in the production of drugs and biofuels," adds senior author.