Biotechnology

You’ve heard of CRISPR as a way to edit or delete genes. Now, two leading biologists say it could also be used to detect cancer or viruses.

What it did: Jennifer Doudna’s team at the University of California, Berkeley used a CRISPR-based test to accurately detect DNA from cancer-causing strains of human papilloma virus in human cells. Meanwhile, Feng Zhang’s lab at the Broad Institute used CRISPR to find tumor DNA in blood samples from lung cancer patients, as well as Zika and dengue virus.

How it works: The researchers attached a signaling molecule to CRISPR. When the CRISPR system finds the DNA it's looking for, it cuts it up the genetic material around it and releases the signaling molecule, indicating that it’s found foreign DNA.

Why it matters: The CRISPR-based test could be used for many things, like testing people during a disease outbreak or finding mutations in patients that reveal drug resistance or cause cancer.