RNA editing may be in the near feature as scientists at the Salk Institute are reporting they managed to map the molecular structure of a CRISPR enzyme that could enable scientists to better manipulate functions within a cell. Over the past several years, CRISPR-Cas9 grabbed the attention of public imagination for its ability to edit genetic code in a way that may potentially correct defects within individual cells. By doing, the chance to heal mutations and prevent the advent of many illnesses may be present.

Cas9 enzymes resemble scissors, which snap away pieces of genetic code and then swap them out with a replacement, but these enzymes target DNA, which of course, is the fundamental building block for the development of an organism, according to Tech Crunch, and there are many growing concerns. A major concern is by using the enzyme to primarily reprogram the DNA of a cell, it may actually cause more harm than good.

Salk Institute published its new findings in the journal Cell,  which provided the detailed molecular structure of CRISPR-Cas13d, an enzyme that can target RNA instead of DNA. RNA was previously thought of as to be just the delivery mechanism for instructions encoded in DNA for cell operations, but now RNA is known to carry out biochemical reactions like enzymes and serve their own regulatory function within cells. Scientists are expected to unveil even more highly refined treatments with fewer risks by identifying an enzyme that can target the mechanisms by which cells operate.

“DNA is constant, but what’s always changing are the RNA messages that are copied from the DNA,” says Salk Research Associate Silvana Konermann, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Hanna Gray Fellow and one of the study’s first authors, in a statement. “Being able to modulate those messages by directly controlling the RNA has important implications for influencing a cell’s fate.”

“In our previous paper, we discovered a new CRISPR family that can be used to engineer RNA directly inside of human cells,” said Helmsley-Salk Fellow Patrick Hsu, who is the other corresponding author of the new work. “Now that we’ve been able to visualize the structure of Cas13d, we can see in more detail how the enzyme is guided to the RNA and how it is able to cut the RNA. These insights are allowing us to improve the system and make the process more effective, paving the way for new strategies to treat RNA-based diseases.”

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