Squids’ gene-editing superpowers may unlock human cures

Researchers found that the cephalopod is the only creature that can edit its RNA outside the nucleus. It’s a tool that may one day help genetic medicine.

The squid does its RNA editing on a massive scale. More than 60,000 brain cells undertake this re-coding process in squid, as compared to a few hundred sites in humans.Photograph: Roger Hanlon/The Marine Biological Laboratory 
Gene-editing techniques like Crispr-based technologies aim to cure human disease by altering the genetic code of our DNA. For nearly every animal on Earth, any changes made to the DNA are transmitted from the cell nucleus by messenger RNA to the cytoplasm, the part of the cell that makes proteins.
But one animal species—a squid used as bait by fishermen, and as food by bigger sea creatures—has already figured out how to edit its genetic code in a way that may help scientists working on gene editing-based drugs and treatments. Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and their colleagues reported on Monday in the journal Nucleic Acids Research that longfin inshore squid (Doryteuthis pealeii) are the first known animals that can edit messenger RNA outside the cell nucleus.
MBL senior scientist Joshua Rosenthal, an author on the new paper, says this unusual method of editing messenger RNA likely has something to do with the squid’s behavior in the ocean. “It works by this massive tweaking of its nervous system,” Rosenthal adds. “Which is a really novel way of going through life.”
All organisms do some form of RNA editing. In humans, some disorders have been linked to malfunctions of RNA editing, such as the sporadic form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. RNA editing also plays a role in immunity, and some studies in …
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