Toronto: Researchers have developed a new method to use the gene editing tool, CRISPR, to target specific bacteria and kill them — an advance that may lead to new techniques for treating bacterial infections, and for customising the gut microbe composition of individuals. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, increases the possibility of using CRISPR technology to alter the makeup of the human microbiome — the community of microbes that live in and on us — in a way that could be personalised for each individual.
The researchers from the University of Western Ontario in Canada said that CRISPR could be programmed to target specific stretches of genetic code, and to edit DNA at precise locations, helping researchers permanently modify genes in living cells and organisms, and also to kill bacteria.
But until now, the researchers said that there wasn’t a way to efficiently kill specific bacterial strains. While the idea of using CRISPR to kill cells and organisms is not new, the researchers noted that the main hurdle was in getting the gene editing tool to target specific cells.
“Other delivery systems could only go to a few spots, where ours can go anywhere,” said co-author Bogumil Karas of the University of Western Ontario. The researchers said that the new technique could be a potential alternative to traditional antibiotics to kill bacteria like Staphyloccous aureus (Staph A) or Escherichia coli (E. coli).
The new delivery system uses the natural ability of bacteria to replicate - called bacterial conjugation - to deliver CRISPR to specific bacteria, and once the gene editing tool reaches the target, it kills the germ by altering its DNA.
The researchers mentioned that CRISPR could be used to develop the next generation of antimicrobial agents that would be effective even for bacteria exhibiting complete resistance to all kinds of antibiotics. “This technology could also be used to help ‘good’ bacteria produce compounds to treat diseases caused by protein deficiencies,” Karas said.