Genes that jump

jumping genes and transposonsGenes that jump.

Transposon Elements (TEs) are an eccentric member of the tightly packed nano-space inside our cells. Also known as jumping genes, mobile elements, transposons, and transposable elements — they are chunks of DNA in a genome that can jump from one position to another. When they jump to new spots, they cause mutations by changing the sequence of AT and CG base pairs. But they can also play a heroic role by advancing genomics in medicine.

How so? Imagine you want to fix a mutation in a gene. How would you get the new code into the exact place? Our genome is made up of long strands that loop and bend in an incredibly dense space. The code has to go through the cell membrane, into the nucleus, and amongst the billions of base pairs — insert at a specific site.

What if disrupting TEs could be tamed? Could they guide the code to the right spot and then cut, paste, and insert to fix the gene? Genome engineers have developed many gene-editing tools to do just that. CRISPR is the latest, and scientists all over the world are using it to modify genomes. 

Geneticists at MIT and the Broad Institute are engineering CRISPR to use a transposon to move new code into a genome. It’s still in the experimental stage, but when this version of CRISPR reaches the clinic, it could be a powerful addition to the genome editing toolbox.  The scientific paper is behind a paywall, but you can read more in the article from STAT News, “Jumping genes could help CRISPR replace disease-causing DNA,”