Worth $500,000, the grant is dedicated to expanding the use of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology in undergraduate laboratory research focused on gene editing. Hampden-Sydney is one of only three undergraduate institutions—along with the University of Houston and the University of Wisconsin-Stout—to be selected for this program.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) describes the unique DNA sequences that lie within other continuously repeating DNA sequences in bacterial genomes. Cas9 is an enzyme that acts as molecular scissors which cut the DNA at a specific location as guided by the RNA. CRISPR-Cas9 technology has revolutionized biomedical research by precisely cutting DNA and then allowing the natural DNA repair process to take over. This could lead to the future prevention of human diseases from an embryotic state.
“By being able to edit genes, we also may be able to correct genes.” Wolyniak explains. “Therefore, if you have a genetic mutation that causes a disease, there is the potential to provide therapy in the form of gene correction.”
Through a series of workshops, Wolnyiak and other Hampden-Sydney professors will be trained and mentored on how to effectively incorporate CRISPR-Cas9 technology into their curriculum.
For students at Hampden-Sydney, this technology can enhance genetic research, ignite ethical discussions, and open doors for future research endeavors. As Wolnyiak says, “It puts Hampden-Sydney front and center in this really important movement in teaching this brand-new technology to the nation.”