The Crispr/Cas9 genetic engineering system has gotten a lot of buzz lately for its potential in epigenetic editing and now a team of researchers in China have just made a huge breakthrough, using the technique to create genetically engineered monkeys. The scientists approach was to inject an engineered bacterial immune system (known as CRISPR/Cas9) into one-cell-stage embryos. Then the ‘destructive’ Cas9 mRNA and its short guide RNA spotters were able to successfully achieve precise gene targeting in cynomolgus monkeys and edit their target sequences of interest. Here’s what the researchers accomplished:
- The group caused very specific and simultaneous disruptions to two target genes (Ppar-γ and Rag1).
- Not only were they able to hit the two genes using the system, but this was all accomplished in a single step.
- Upon sequencing, they noticed the ‘usually observed’ genetic mosaicism due to the fact that CRISPR/cas9 cleavage occurred at multiple different times during embryogenesis in different monkeys.
- A “comprehensive analysis” revealed that not a drop of off-target mutagenesis occurred, which has always been a major concern for genetic engineering techniques.
The Chinese team found that CRISPR/cas9 is a pretty powerful technique for genetically engineering monkeys (and that this could potentially be applied to their most infamous relative, humans, one day). Despite the concerns of the public media, and conspiracy theorists with nightmares of a GATTACA-like dystopian future, author Jiahao Sha seems very optimistic about genome editing technology, commenting that “Considering that many human diseases are caused by genetic abnormalities, targeted genetic modification in monkeys is invaluable for the generation of human disease models”.
Check all of the monkey business for yourself over at Cell, February 2014