Gene editing transforms gel into shape-shifting material

 

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The CRISPR technique can trigger the new material to release drugs or pick up biological signals

Is there anything CRISPR can’t do? Scientists have wielded the gene-editing tool to make scores of genetically modified organisms, as well as to track animal development, detect diseases and control pests. Now, they have found yet another application for it: using CRISPR to create smart materials that change their form on command.

The shape-shifting materials could be used to deliver drugs, and to create sentinels for almost any biological signal, researchers report in Science on 22 August1. The study was led by James Collins, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Collins’ team worked with water-filled polymers that are held together by strands of DNA, known as DNA hydrogels. To alter the properties of these materials, Collins and his team turned to a form of CRISPR that uses a DNA-snipping enzyme called Cas12a. (The gene-editor CRISPR–Cas9 uses the Cas9 enzyme to snip a DNA sequence at the desired point.) The Cas12a enzyme can be programmed to recognize a specific DNA sequence. The enzyme cuts its target DNA strand, then severs single strands of DNA nearby.

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What Is Bioprinting?

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Bioprinted materials can be used to repair damaged organs.

Bioprinting, a type of 3D printing, uses cells and other biological materials as “inks” to fabricate 3D biological structures. Bioprinted materials have the potential to repair damaged organs, cells, and tissues in the human body. In the future, bioprinting may be used to build entire organs from scratch, a possibility that could transform the field of bioprinting.

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Self-healing hydrogels repair themselves after sustaining damage

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Self-healing, squishy hydrogels

One of biology’s greatest tricks is the ability to heal–to repair oneself repeatedly and thus sustain damage repeatedly, and one that humans have been trying to replicate in synthetic materials for years. Now, bioengineers at University of California, San Diego, have done so via a hydrogel that could be something of a game-changer in disciplines like medicine and materials science.

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