Advancements in CRISPR technology discovered amid ongoing patent dispute

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Researchers at UC Berkley and UCSF published new findings about gene-modifying proteins in December connected to their research of CRISPR technology, a natural bacterial defense mechanism that is the subject of an ongoing patent dispute.

In a publication released Dec. 22, principal investigator Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley and other researchers summarized their discovery of the previously unknown CRISPR and the presence of the Cas9 protein in nanoarchaeum, which are smaller versions of single-celled microorganisms.

Researchers at UCSF’s Bondy-Denomy Lab, which studies the way bacteria fight off viruses known as bacteriophages within microbial ecosystems, published a paper Dec. 29 about their discovery of “anti-CRISPR proteins,” bacteriophages that stop Cas9 proteins from binding to DNA.

“The basic framework (of) CRISPR is that it exists in bacteria and archaea to protect from viruses,” said Joseph Bondy-Denomy, principal investigator at the Bondy-Denomy Lab.

The Doudna Lab at UC Berkeley, which specializes in RNA biology, conducts CRISPR research. Doudna has co-authored several scientific papers documenting her team’s applications of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system.

The Cas9 protein is also the subject of the patent debate between UC Berkeley and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, in which both teams claim that they were first to discover the protein’s usefulness in gene manipulation and regulation. The two groups are undergoing a legal process called a patent interference, in which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will determine whether an overlap exists between each method of using the technology.

According to Bondy-Denomy, Cas9 is still widely shared and utilized among researchers amid the ongoing patent debate.

“Our focus is studying the natural biology of these proteins,” Bondy-Denomy said. ”We’re not done surveying all that nature can give us in CRISPR. It still deserves a lot of attention.”

Contact Justin Sidhu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @dc_justinsidhu.