Watch CRISPR Do Its Thing

By Carl Engelking | November 15, 2017 4:14 pm

(Credit: Shibata et al/Nature Communications)

Forget about the generic stock art that shows scissors cutting chunks of DNA, because researchers have recorded actual video of CRISPR in action.

CRISPR is a powerful gene-editing tool that allows researchers to cut and paste snippets of DNA to make targeted changes to a living organism’s genome. It’s a method that’s fast and easy, and it has ushered in a new era of customized life.

Scientists have used the technique to breed mosquitoes that resistant to the malaria virus, develop treatments for muscular dystrophy, grow pig organs suitable for humans, cure blindness and invent new drugs—all this without ever actually seeing it in action.

But that all changed thanks to Japanese researcher Osamu Nureki, who, along with his colleagues, recorded video of CRISPR chopping a strand of DNA into two pieces. Nureki debuted the video in June before a crowd of scientists gathered for a conference in Big Sky, Montana. Scientists tend to mute their emotions when it comes to scrutinizing results in their field of study, but when Nureki hit play, gasps rippled through the crowd.

The researchers used a technique called high-speed atomic-force microscopy, which creates images using a tiny needle that slides back and forth over a microscopic object to infer its shape. The needle moves incredibly fast, making it possible to create rather fluid movies. They published complete details of their molecular cinematography in the journal Nature Communications.

The video is rather austere and blurry, but it’s easy to see the moment when that DNA strand breaks apart. And in its simplicity, there’s something incredibly profound. Right there, before our eyes, is how researchers are reengineering life, as we know it.

Before this video played, there was little doubt that CRISPR worked. Scientists didn’t need to see it, but there’s something extraordinary about bearing witness to something with our own eyes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: genetics
  • sgelman55

    This isn’t cool you trying to hype up gmos doesn’t make it cool either playing god is a disgusting act and you people are poisoning the entire human race with your mutant frankenfood

    • phobius


      • sgelman55

        Facts are facts even if they are funny. Why do you think Monsanto is being sued for glyphosate causing cancer yet continue to dous the food supply in it…sick and twisted

        • phobius

          you need to distinguish between science, and bad applications of science

          If not, you’re likely to just come off as a loon, and potentially alienate people whom might otherwise support the same causes as you

          For any decent invention, there are people working out ways to misuse it – but there’s a reason we don’t just ban every scientific advance just to spite those bad eggs

          • StanChaz

            Yeah, the reason is that someone with deep pockets is usually already trying to militarize it.
            Science versus its applications? A false duality. What if it’s a scientific advance that’s amazing or useful in some respects but also has the potential to truly hurt or destroy humanity if it gets into the “wrong” hands? Like splitting the atom, only on a much greater scale. Would you then arrogantly gamble with our collective future in the name of “scientific freedom”? Can we always trust the powers that be, those in control, to be the good guys – and wise? Witness the dangerous debacle of Trump, or irresponsible corporations whose only interest is the quick buck. We need to carefully & cautiously monitor all the genies in the bottle of Science lest they run amok…

  • L. Gibb

    I cannot believe some of the negative comments but, then again, I’m sure there were such against the smallpox vaccine. “Playing God” is such a stupid concept. Imagine being able to “snip” out the genes causing cancer and replace them with “normal” ones. This is the most exciting advancement in science since ….. ever.

  • tony

    Come on God, admit you don’t exist.

  • Sheila Lockwood

    I participated in a number of Post-grad Genomics courses within the past year and find the discoveries and technology amazing but emphasis throughout the course was the importance of ethical considerations and the need to protect from all forms exploitation for profit


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar