In DepthCell Biology

‘CAMERA’ records cell action with new CRISPR tricks

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Science  16 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6377, pp. 728
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6377.728

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Biologists long have devised ways to track the inner working of cells, tagging genes with fluorescent proteins and the like to better understand diseases, embryology, and environmental impacts. With the advent of CRISPR, best known as a genome editing tool, many groups have tried to fashion novel recording devices. In a proof-of-concept study published in this week's issue of Science, Harvard University's David Liu and Weixin Tang exploit the components of CRISPR to create two new recording systems that they call a CRISPR-mediated analog multievent recording apparatus, or CAMERA for short. One CAMERA system records with the help of plasmids, circular pieces of DNA that float around bacterial cell cytoplasms. In this scheme, CRISPR kicks into action in response to a stimulus like light, an antibiotic, or a virus, directing the destruction of one of two nearly identical "recorder" plasmids. A tilt in the ratio of recorder one to recorder two captures the exposure to the stimulus, even offering details about the duration and intensity of the exposure. The second CAMERA, which works in mammalian cells as well, uses a CRISPR variant called a base editor to alter the DNA in a "safe harbor" gene that can change its sequence without harming the cell. They show how the changes in the safe harbor gene's sequence can record signals from the cellular processes that a stimulus triggers, such as turning on a cancer-causing biochemical pathway.