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Editing genome sequences to correct mutations

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 9:58am

Extraordinary new research on how the bacterial immune system provides a way forward on correcting genetic mutations:

 [UGA] researchers Michael and Rebecca Terns were among the first to begin to study the bacterial immune system. They now have identified a key link in how bacteria respond and adapt to foreign invaders.

The new study, authored by the Terns and postdoctoral research associate Yunzhou Wei in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of biochemistry and molecular biology, was published recently in Genes & Development.

A bacterium gains immunity against a virus through a sophisticated process of acquiring a fragment of the viral DNA and incorporating the sequence into its own genome. This virus identification sequence is kept in a locus commonly known as a CRISPR, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.

This is the area of greatest interest in all of biology for a reason. The precipice on which our leading researchers now stand is the result of great technological breakthroughs over the last two decades leveraged with relentless experimentation in our best labs.

"Computational biologists looking at the sequences of bacterial genomes made the observations that led them to hypothesize that this system existed. We started doing experiments to test the hypothesis and discovered this immune system," Rebecca Terns said.

"The way that this immune system captures invader sequences is amazing—and unprecedented in biology."

Image: Michael Terns, left to right, and Rebecca Terns listen to postdoctoral scientist Yunzhou Wei as he talks about proteins on a slide after a purification procedure in the Terns' lab in the Davison Life Sciences Complex. (Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

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