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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

BMB lab creates educational CRISPR Primer with support from Walder Foundation

A Cascade complex bound to target DNA being cleaved by Cas3

CRISPR is a hot topic—even people who have never taken a biochemistry class have probably heard of it. But most don’t know much about it other than it has something to do with gene engineering. And if they search for more information online, most of what they’ll find is about the revolutionary molecular biology tools that have been developed from this system.

Now, there’s a new resource for people who want to learn more about the basic biology of CRISPR: a CRISPR Primer launched by the Bailey lab as part of communications activities supported by the Walder Foundation.

Scott Bailey, PhD, associate professor in biochemistry and molecular biology, studies the function and structure of CRISPR systems, which many types of bacteria use as an immune system to defend against foreign DNA from viruses and other sources. He became involved in the field to understand the basic biology of the systems, before CRISPR took off as a gene editing tool.

“I was interested in how an adaptive immune system would function in bacteria,” said Bailey.

There are many online resources about CRISPR, but most are focused on Type II CRISPR-Cas9 systems because of their use in gene editing technologies. The Primer currently focuses on the two CRISPR systems that Bailey primarily studies, Type I and Type III, which have some key differences from the Type II CRISPR-Cas9 systems and are actually more common in nature.

“I was initially drawn to the Type I and Type III systems because of their complexity and rich diversity of mechanisms,” Bailey explained.

CRISPR is famous because of its use in molecular biology tools. The primer also includes a section on how the discoveries about CRISPR revealed by basic biology research are connected to the development of those tools. The Primer will be expanded in the future.

“Our hope is that the primer will educate a broad audience on the diversity of CRISPR systems and their potential for novel tools beyond Cas9,” said Bailey.

Elizabeth Walder

The Primer is one of the communications activities supported by the Walder Foundation, a private family foundation based in Skokie, Illinois. The support is for activities in both the Bailey Lab and the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department, including the launch of the Bailey Lab website last fall.

“The Walder Foundation is committed to promoting clear and accessible science communications so that everyone--not just researchers--can understand the role science plays in our lives. This is why our support of Dr. Bailey’s research included dedicated funding for communications,” said Elizabeth Walder, right, President and Executive Director of the Walder Foundation and a Johns Hopkins University alumna.

The funding also supports a scientific communications specialist position created last year, covering both the lab and the department.  

In addition to communications activities, the foundation provides funding for Bailey lab research into CRISPR using cryo-EM.