The Breakthrough

The new method, titled Cpf1, was made by Feng Zhang and his colleagues at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. The new system differs from CRISPR in the following ways:

  • The Cpf1 system is simpler in that it requires only a single RNA.
  • Cpf1 cuts DNA in a different manner than Cas9. With the Cpf1 complex the cuts in the two strands are offset, leaving short overhangs on the exposed ends. This is expected to help with precise insertion, allowing researchers to integrate a piece of DNA more efficiently and accurately.
  • Cpf1 cuts far away from the recognition site, meaning that even if the targeted gene becomes mutated at the cut site, it can likely still be re-cut, allowing multiple opportunities for correct editing to occur.
  • Finally, the Cpf1 system provides new flexibility in choosing target sites.

As with earlier Cas9 tools, these groups will make this technology freely available for academic research

The Implications

The implications of this breakthrough are huge. Experimentation with CRISPR-Cas9 was already progressing far faster than accompanying regulation, as witnessed after Chinese scientists announced that they had experimented with human embryos.

Cpf1 will likely expedite experimentation into human genome editing and cause the ethical debate to be brought to the forefront. The Cpf1 system truly represents a new generation of genome editing technology.

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