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Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) nucleases.

Repetitive DNA sequences, called CRISPR, were observed in bacteria with “spacer” DNA sequences in between the repeats that exactly match viral sequences. It was subsequently discovered that bacteria transcribe these DNA elements to RNA upon viral infection. The RNA guides a nuclease to the invading viral DNA to cut it, providing protection against the virus. The nucleases are named “Cas,” for “CRISPR-associated.

In 2012, researchers demonstrated that RNAs could be constructed to guide a Cas nuclease (Cas9 was the first used) to any DNA sequence. The so-called guide RNA can also be made so that it will be specific to only that one sequence, improving the chances that the DNA will be cut at that site and nowhere else in the genome.

Overview Figure