The research group held its annual meeting in Bensheim and took the opportunity to visit BRAIN AG, thus gaining an insight into the company’s current research activities. The visit was initiated by Prof. Dr. Anita Marchfelder of the University of Ulm (spokesperson for the research group) and Dr. Ümit Pul, Project Manager at BRAIN. The visitors were introduced to the company and its various research units, resulting in the identification of some potential for cooperation and synergy. After a guided tour of the BRAIN Technology Campus, the attendees have continued with professional discussions and networking in smaller groups.
The CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Spaced Short Interspaced Palindromic Repeats) prokaryotic immune system is one of the biggest biotechnological discoveries of the century. It has been recognized that prokaryotes have developed exactly that which scientists had been trying to produce synthetically in the laboratory for decades: a programmable DNA-cutting enzyme that can be used as a molecular scalpel in genome engineering in higher eukaryotic cells.
Since 2007 it is known that prokaryotes have an adaptive defense mechanism against viruses and other parasitic DNA elements, known as the CRISPR-Cas system. During the infection with a virus, the prokaryotic cells cut small DNA fragments of the infecting viral DNA, with the help of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins, and store these sequences in their own genome, which marks the invader as a target.
“The trick behind is that the stored sequence information is transcribed into a short RNA molecule that binds to a DNA-cutting enzyme in order to direct it to the complementary sequence of the viral DNA,” says Dr. Ümit Pul, Project Leader at BRAIN AG. “Once the target site is found, the enzyme gets activated and introduces an incision into the DNA. Such a programmable enzyme is the Cas9 protein, which is currently revolutionizing biological and medical research. It is possible to reprogramme the Cas9 protein via small synthetic RNA molecules, and thus to route Cas9 to any DNA sequence in the cell.” Dr. Ümit Pul has examined the basic mechanisms of CRISPR-Cas systems since 2008, and continues his work at BRAIN since October 2014. Within just a few weeks, several genes in various cell systems could be inactivated and modified using the CRISPR technology at BRAIN. The technology has become an indispensable part of BRAIN’s daily laboratory routine and its relevance will further increase in the near future.
The technology is also fascinating to Dr. Michael Krohn, Head of the “BioActive Molecules” Unit at BRAIN: “The potential for biotechnology is immense, particularly since cell biologists have searched for years for molecular tools that enable genome editing in human somatic cells. With CRISPR technology in the hands, we are now able to do this successfully.”