A NEW way of changing DNA sequences could correct nearly nine in ten genetic defects, US scientists say.
The technology — called prime editing — has been dubbed a “genetic word processor” that can accurately rewrite the genetic code.
Researchers have used the method to insert and delete sections and correct “typos” in the three billion DNA “base pairs” that make up the human genome — in other words our genetic code.
Dr David Liu, lead researcher at the Broad Institute in the US, said: “You can think of prime editors to be like word processors, capable of searching for target DNA sequences and precisely replacing them.
“Prime editors offer more flexibility and greater precision.”
There are around 75,000 different mutations that can cause disease in human beings. Dr Liu believes prime editing has the potential to fix 89 per cent of them.
The other 11 per cent are where people have too many copies of a gene or when the whole gene is missing.
Prime editing scans the DNA to find the part that needs to be altered, then uses an enzyme, called a reverse transcriptase, to copy over the correct version. In the lab this method has already been successfully used on human and mouse cells.
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In one experiment, it corrected mutations that cause sickle cell anaemia — an inherited condition which means sufferers don’t have enough red blood cells.
Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the London-based Francis Crick Institute, told BBC News: “Of course, much more work will be needed to optimise the methods and to find ways to deliver the components efficiently before they could be used clinically to treat patients.
“But they certainly offer promise.” The study is in the journal Nature.