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New CRISPR tools can detect infections like HPV, dengue, and Zika

Scientists are harnessing the same technology behind the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR to develop cheap devices that can quickly diagnose infections. These systems, described in new research, have the potential to revolutionize how we detect and respond to viruses like HPV and Zika, especially in developing countries.

The CRISPR used in the first Science study is called CRISPR-Cas12a. Doudna’s team discovered that when this type of CRISPR snips double-stranded DNA, it does something interesting: it starts shredding single-stranded DNA as well, says study co-author Janice Chen, a fellow at Doudna’s lab at UC Berkeley. “That was an unexpected finding,” Chen tells The Verge. “We were instantly, ‘This is crazy.’ This opens a whole new avenue for being able to detect DNA sequence.”

So Chen and her colleagues decided to engineer Cas12a into a diagnostic tool, called DETECTR. It works this way: the CRISPR system is programmed to detect the HPV DNA inside a person’s cells. When CRISPR detects it, it also cuts a “reporter molecule” with single-stranded DNA that releases a fluorescent signal. So if the cells are infected with HPV, scientists are able to see the signal and quickly diagnose a patient. For now, DETECTR was tested in a tube containing DNA from infected human cells, showing it could detect HPV16 with 100 percent accuracy, and HPV18 with 92 percent accuracy. Those two HPV types are particularly dangerous because they can cause cancer in men and women…




UC Berkeley



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