This week, Microbiology has launched a new article collection on CRISPR, containing high quality research and insights of CRISPR from articles published in the journal. Francisco J.M. Mojica, an author in the Microbiology CRISPR collection, has written a summary on the technology and its growing importance.
The search for knowledge for its own sake might not need any defence: curiosity is inherent to the human condition. However, contribution of scientific discovery to the progress of humankind may be a matter of dispute. Basic researchers set out on adventures, with indefinite boundaries, aimed at understanding aspects of the subject under study. Once this goal is achieved, producing benefits beyond wisdom is only a question of time.
Thirty years ago, curious DNA repeats, currently referred to as CRISPR, were found in the genome of a bacterium. Soon after, similar regularly-spaced repeats were also discovered in distantly related prokaryotes, evidencing that they might be biologically relevant. Even though experiments reported in the mid-1990s supported their functionality, the specific role played by the repeat locus remained puzzling for more than a decade.
In 2005, the mystery was unveiled: CRISPR cassettes witness genetic intrusions. This surprising revelation caught the attention of researchers in diverse fields within life sciences, notably microbiologists who, during the following few years, confirmed CRISPR-based adaptive immunity and deciphered the underlying mechanism. Multiple uses have emerged from this basic study on the biology of prokaryotes - initially, applications framed within microbiology and biotechnology.
Subsequently, extraordinary DNA manipulation tools were implemented, with components of this immune system and CRISPR spread into other fields, from agriculture to medicine, triggering an unprecedented revolution in science. Indeed, prokaryotes can undertake a sort of rudimentary learning, based on previous experiences. We should also learn from this lesson what the value of basic research is.
The Microbiology Society has produced a video to help explain the science behind CRISPR, which you can see below: