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Genomic Cleavage

July 30, 2014

Imagine a world where cleavage was the cure for AIDS? Well, the future is here!!

Okay, okay… it’s not a lie but I’ll admit it’s misleading. I’m not talking about the sexy kind of cleavage… I’m talking about the MORE SEXY kind called genomic cleavage. I secretly wanted a catchy line to grab your attention and lure you back into reading FABstracts. I’ve been MIA from blogging for a thousand years, I know… but now I’m back and ready to rock your world with science again!

As for genomic cleavage and AIDS – here’s the real story. A team of scientists at Temple University recently published their work describing a method for HIV eradication in a petri dish. HIV is a virus that infects humans and leads to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Once a person has developed AIDS, they no longer have a functional immune system to fight off infections or cancers, and there aren’t many treatment options available.

Now, HIV is a type of virus called a retrovirus, meaning it’s particularly challenging to prevent/cure infections. In simplest terms, this little guy lands on your healthy immune cells and poops its genetic material into them. That genetic material then gets copied into DNA, moseys up to your DNA, and randomly shoves itself in wherever it feels like it. Now it is literally a part of your genetic material, and it will either hang out and evade the immune system or make the highjacked cell produce more HIV virus babies to infect more immune cells.


(HIV life cycle movie for the super motivated:

Now imagine that your genome is a library of books, and every single cell has the same library. Each book represents a gene, and every library is in the same exact order. Now imagine an HIV book is hidden randomly in every library – how would you ever know where to look for it? This is exactly the problem we’re faced with when trying to develop a cure for HIV infection.

Belle: srsly wtf

Beast: find it lol
Belle: srsly wtf

However, these clever scientists have taken a new approach toward solving the problem. The technique is called “RNA-directed gene editing” and it’s like GPS to locate HIV genes in every individual cell. Special “guide RNAs” hunt for the HIV genes (for non-biology lovers, RNA is sorta like DNA but single-stranded). These guide a molecular scissor called Cas9 to the correct location so it can snip out the nasty DNA. That’s what the term “genomic cleavage” means. After the cleavage is complete, the cell can patch the genomic hole and voila! No more HIV infection.

I should be clear that this is a LONG way from curing humans. The group has shown its therapeutic potential in petri dishes full of HIV-infected immune cells. The method successfully edited HIV genes and appeared to have little off-target effects in multiple types of cells. Hooray! However, efficacy and side effects will need to be closely monitored in organisms that are treated with this method to ensure it is safe and helpful for humans. It won’t happen tomorrow, but this work is a big step in the right direction toward curing HIV/AIDS.


From → Biology

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