Explainer: How CRISPR works | Science News for Students

Posted: May 22, 2019 at 12:43 pm

(more about Power Words)

applicationA particular use or function of something.

base (in genetics) A shortened version of the term nucleobase. These bases are building blocks of DNA and RNA molecules.

biologyThe study of living things. The scientists who study them are known as biologists.

Cas9An enzyme that geneticists are now using to help edit genes. It can cut through DNA, allowing it to fix broken genes, splice in new ones or disable certain genes. Cas9 is shepherded to the place it is supposed to make cuts by CRISPRs, a type of genetic guides. The Cas9 enzyme came from bacteria. When viruses invade a bacterium, this enzyme can chop up the germs DNA, making it harmless.

cellThe smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the naked eye, it consists of watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells, depending on their size. Some organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.

chemicalA substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (become bonded together) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O.

CRISPRAn abbreviation pronounced crisper for the term clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. These are pieces of RNA, an information-carrying molecule. They are copied from the genetic material of viruses that infect bacteria. When a bacterium encounters a virus that it was previously exposed to, it produces an RNA copy of the CRISPR that contains that virus genetic information. The RNA then guides an enzyme, called Cas9, to cut up the virus and make it harmless. Scientists are now building their own versions of CRISPR RNAs. These lab-made RNAs guide the enzyme to cut specific genes in other organisms. Scientists use them, like a genetic scissors, to edit or alter specific genes so that they can then study how the gene works, repair damage to broken genes, insert new genes or disable harmful ones.

developmental(in biology) An adjective that refers to the changes an organism undergoes from conception through adulthood. Those changes often involve chemistry, size and sometimes even shape.

DNA(short for deoxyribonucleic acid) A long, double-stranded and spiral-shaped molecule inside most living cells that carries genetic instructions. It is built on a backbone of phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon atoms. In all living things, from plants and animals to microbes, these instructions tell cells which molecules to make.

engineeringThe field of research that uses math and science to solve practical problems.

fieldAn area of study, as in: Her field of research was biology. Also a term to describe a real-world environment in which some research is conducted, such as at sea, in a forest, on a mountaintop or on a city street. It is the opposite of an artificial setting, such as a research laboratory.

fluorescentCapable of absorbing and reemitting light. That reemitted light is known as a fluorescence.

gene(adj. genetic) A segment of DNA that codes, or holds instructions, for producing a protein. Offspring inherit genes from their parents. Genes influence how an organism looks and behaves.

genomeThe complete set of genes or genetic material in a cell or an organism. The study of this genetic inheritance housed within cells is known as genomics.

muscleA type of tissue used to produce movement by contracting its cells, known as muscle fibers. Muscle is rich in a protein, which is why predatory species seek prey containing lots of this tissue.

mutation(v. mutate) Some change that occurs to a gene in an organisms DNA. Some mutations occur naturally. Others can be triggered by outside factors, such as pollution, radiation, medicines or something in the diet. A gene with this change is referred to as a mutant.

nucleusPlural is nuclei. (in biology) A dense structure present in many cells. Typically a single rounded structure encased within a membrane, the nucleus contains the genetic information.

organ(in biology) Various parts of an organism that perform one or more particular functions. For instance, an ovary is an organ that makes eggs, the brain is an organ that interprets nerve signals and a plants roots are organs that take in nutrients and moisture.

palindrome (adj. palindromic) A word, a name or a phrase that has the same ordering of letters when read forwards or backwards. For instance, dad and mom are both palindromes.

proteinCompoundmade from one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms. They form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues; they also do the work inside of cells. The hemoglobin in blood and the antibodies that attempt to fight infections are among the better-known, stand-alone proteins. Medicines frequently work by latching onto proteins.

RNAA molecule that helps read the genetic information contained in DNA. A cells molecular machinery reads DNA to create RNA, and then reads RNA to create proteins.

tag(in biology) To attach some rugged band or package of instruments onto an animal. Sometimes the tag is used to give each individual a unique identification number. Once attached to the leg, ear or other part of the body of a critter, it can effectively become the animals name. In some instances, a tag can collect information from the environment around the animal as well. This helps scientists understand both the environment and the animals role within it.

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Explainer: How CRISPR works | Science News for Students

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