In DepthMicrobiology

Like CRISPR, mystery gene editor began as a virus fighter

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Science  20 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6519, pp. 898-899
DOI: 10.1126/science.370.6519.898

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Summary

Seven years ago, an understanding of nature inspired a revolutionary new technology, when researchers turned a defense system used by bacteria to thwart viruses into the gene-editing tool now known as CRISPR. But for another emerging gene editor the understanding has lagged the applications. For several years, researchers have been adapting retrons, mysterious complexes of DNA, RNA, and protein found in some bacteria, into a potentially powerful way to alter genomes of single-cell organisms. Now, biology is catching up, as two groups report evidence that like CRISPR, retrons are part of the bacterial immune arsenal, protecting the microbes from viruses called phages. At least one retron defends bacteria by triggering newly infected cells to self-destruct so the virus can't replicate and spread to others.

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