Zurich - Researchers from the University of Zurich have developed a tool that is able, with the help of Artificial Intelligence, to repair gene defects in more targeted fashion than previously possible. This genome editing method represents a further development of the classic gene scissors technique.

A team from the University of Zurich (UZH) has further developed the CRISPR/Cas9 technology, known as the classic gene scissors. Such methods of genome editing are used in laboratory settings to specifically modify the genetic material in lineages and model organisms and to study biological processes. It can also be used to correct DNA mutations in genetic diseases.

According to a press release, the new technology is called Prime Editing. Unlike conventional gene scissors, prime editing does not cut and repair both strands of the DNA molecule, but only one. According to initial studies, prime editing leads to a significantly lower number of unintended changes than traditional gene editing approaches.

AI helps to make genetic repairs more efficient
An algorithm based on artificial intelligence makes it possible to repair mutations in DNA even more efficiently than before. Image: istock.com/Nobi_Prizue

Before cutting, the Prime Editing Guide RNA (pegRNA) precisely navigates to the target site in the genome and provides the new genetic information, which is then incorporated in the DNA. However, per mutation there are “over 200 repair possibilities”, as Gerald Schwank, professor at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at UZH, explains in the press release. In theory, every single possibility would have to be tested experimentally to find the ideal pegRNA. Therefore, together with fellow professor Michael Krauthammer from the Institute for Quantitative Biomedicine, Schwank has developed a method using Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can predict the efficiency of pegRNAs.

According to UZH, further preclinical studies are still required before the new Prime Editing tool can be used in humans. However, the researchers are confident that in the foreseeable future, DNA mutations related to common hereditary diseases such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis or metabolic diseases can also be repaired in human DNA. mm

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