This artwork was created for SynBioExpo, a collaborative exhibition between the researchers at BrisSynBio from the University of Bristol’s Synthetic Biology research network and artists Imogen Coulter, Claudia Stocker (Vivid Biology) and Theo Wood. These artworks intend to visualise the research potential of CRISPR, a fascinating new technology for editing DNA that is being used to help develop new therapies for disease and much more.
The displayed images show human red blood cells whose genetic material is being edited by the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The latter is one of the most efficient genome engineering tools for precise genetic manipulation. Red blood cells are unusual in that they have no nucleus as mature cells. The nucleus is 'spat out' during development to make more room for haemoglobin. The red blood cell lives for about two weeks in the circulatory system, and is then recycled without further cell division. This means that if you want to genetically edit red blood cells, you need to edit the stems cells that create them rather than the red blood cells themselves. A popular reason for editing red blood cells is to remove cell surface markers. These proteins dictate which blood group (A, B, AB, O) the cell is. Removing all cell surface molecules theoretically creates a red blood cell that can be used by anyone without immune reaction.