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How are you improving genetic scissors, Ms Madariaga Marcos?

You’re banned! With the help of CRISPR/Cas systems, bacteria protect their genome from mutations or destruction caused by pathogens. Biotechnology has adopted the mechanism of the bacterial defence system – also known as genetic scissors – using it to specifically modify the genome by deleting or inserting certain DNA sequences.

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  • Text: Nora Lessing
Foto von Julene Madariaga Marcos beim Zerschneiden von Luftschlangen
Saturn-ähnliches Dekortationsbild


Dr Julene Madariaga Marcos was a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Peter Debye Institute for Soft Matter Physics at Leipzig University until the end of January 2023.

Humboldt Research Fellowship

The Spanish physicist Julene Madariaga Marcos is searching for ways of making genetic scissors even more reliable. “One of the problems with genetic scissors is off-targeting,” she explains. “They also cut through DNA that is similar, but not identical, to the actual target sequence.” This can have serious side-effects – through to genes losing their functionality. To ensure that tomorrow’s genetic scissors work more precisely, Madariaga Marcos has developed a nano sensor to trace what happens when off-targeting occurs at a molecular level.

“The sensor helps us to investigate the mechanisms CRISPR/Cas systems use to dock onto DNA sequences from a biophysical perspective.” To this end the researchers purposely expose CRISPR/Cas to DNA sequences to which the genetic scissors are not supposed to respond. “Ideally, our research will help us to understand how we can seriously reduce the side-effects of the technology or even remove them altogether. This would take us a step closer to being able to treat genetic diseases.” 

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