[Researcher of the Month] Scientific Integration Approach to Programmable Nuclease
Professor Bae Sang-su (Department of Chemistry)
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When a baby is identified to have been born with a rare, incurable disease, it would bring about concerns and sorrow to the newborn and the parents. However, with the prospective research on CRISPR Cas-9 system, or a programmable nuclease, a host of diseases will prevented without further ado. Professor Bae Sang-su of the Department of Chemistry explains the mechanism of the CRISPR Cas-9 system through his research “Structural roles of guide RNAs in the nuclease activity of Cas-9 endonuclease”. Also, he reveals the course of his life towards scientific integration that shapes the bright future of scientific studies.
Structural properties and significance of CRISPR Cas-9
The significance of this research paper is that it explains the structural mechanisms of the CRISPR Cas-9 system and how it can modify or edit DNAs in cells. CRISPR-Cas 9 stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which relies on a protein named Cas-9. As it is called by the name of 'molecule scissors', it introduces the new spectrum of genome editing technology. Even though there already have been two programmable nuclease systems which are the Zinc Finger Nuclease and the TALENs(Transcriptor Activator Like Effector Nuclease System).
The former is the first generation of the genome editing system that is compiled of one zinc finger and three to four nucleases. The title originated from the chemical component zinc, because this DNA contained certain amount of zinc. Then the second generation of genome editing system developed, which was called the TALENs that contained the base named xanthomonas originating from vegetable pathogens. “These two generations were startling contributions to scientific development, but with the advent of the third generation of genome editing, the CRISPR Cas-9 system, the scientific world could not contain its surprise,” said Bae. The CRISPR Cas-9 system was simpler in application to various circumstances and in the modification of DNAs.
The significance of the CRISPR Cas-9 system is that it can enhance the welfare of human life in various aspects. “This technology is currently being applied to plants and animals, and also is in process of availing itself to humans by amending laws. Application of the system to humans will take 10 years at the most, since the research is developing at a fast pace,” explained Bae. An example of genome-modified plant through the CRISPR Cas-9 system that Bae provided was a modified mushroom in the United States. Discoloration of mushrooms by time lapse was prevented due to the CRISPR Cas-9 system, and the mushroom could maintain its original color for a long time. Bae explained that “not only does the CRISPR Cas-9 system treat incurable diseases of humans, but it can also modify DNAs in plants and animals to increase marketability.”
However, the genome editing system has been controversial in the scientific academia due to its resemblance to genetically modified organisms, also called GMO. According to Bae, there is a blunt difference between the two because GMO requires DNAs extracted from other organisms to modify the sample, while the CRISPR Cas-9 system modifies DNAs in the sample itself. “Even though some experts call the CRISPR Cas-9 system a part of GMO, the American Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged the genome editing program as a discrete system,” said Bae. Another controversy that the CRISPR Cas-9 system is incurring is the occurrence risk of a tailored baby. Even though there is a low possibility in creation of so called 'monsters', the prospect of the system is inexhaustible that the scientific academia can’t forecast the future application of the CRISPR Cas-9 system. “The application of the system should be discreetly considered and contemplated, in order to prevent any accounts of abuse incurred by a little crack of regulations,” said Bae.
Scientific integration approach and its synergy effects
One of the reasons why Bae could successfully reveal the mechanism of this newly found technology was due to his academic background. Bae got his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in physics, while pursuing chemical studies in his post-doctoral program. Once he became a professor in the chemistry department, he encountered the Method of the Year- 2013 published by Nature Method, which was introducing the new technology, the CRISPR Cas-9 system. As Bae was carried away by the astonishment, he got involved in the genome engineering research in earnest.
“Although there could be some drawbacks for me to research biological technology because I majored in physics and chemistry, I thought that I can sublimate these flaws into advantages through scientific integration,” said Bae. Because he majored in physics, he could access the research in a physician’s perspective of ‘how and why’, instead of a biologist’s perspective of ‘so.’ According to Bae, he demonstrated his full potential and capabilities in this research as both physician and chemist, because he could inquire the structural mechanisms of the system and create programs using various physical means like razors.
In his teenage years, Bae was interested in studying science since he was a student of natural sciences and engineering. Moment by moment, Bae immersed himself in scientific research, and in his graduate school years, he spent great energy and time researching for scientific development. Due to his diverse academic background, Bae could successfully pursue his amalgamative research in different scientific fields. Now, another approach to scientific integration is in progress, as the CRISPR Cas-9 system is being applied to different fields. “As a scientist researching the CRISPR Cas-9 system, I have to cooperate with experts from profoundly dissimilar fields. Lack of knowledge between each others’ academic branches and hardship in communication may bring about discord. Thus, efforts to understand and study each others’ academic knowledge through cooperation is the key to successful results,” said Bae.
Bae's ultimate goal is to apply this original research of CRISPR Cas-9 system to different fields through joint research. To the question of how he will encourage and foster junior scholars at Hanyang University, he answered with ‘confidence.’ “I have studied and researched at various universities with different experts, and I have realized that students of Hanyang University are equally capable to these scientists. With confidence and courage to carry on their majors with tenacity, students of Hanyang University can demonstrate their capabilities to the fullest,” said Bae.
Kim Ju-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Kim Youn-soo
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