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Let the CRISPR Games Begin!

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have launched a new level for the online computer game Eterna, in which they're asking players to design an RNA molecule capable of acting as an on/off switch for CRISPR/Cas9. Molecular biologists will then build and test the actual molecules.

An off switch for CRISPR could help researchers reduce the likelihood of off-target effects, Stanford says. An on-off switch could also be activated and deactivated by a doctor on a schedule, the way drugs are scheduled by the dose.

Anyone can play the Eterna RNA-design game, Stanford says. All you need is an internet connection and some time. The difficulty for Eterna players is to come up with an RNA molecule that does several things, associate professor William Greenleaf adds. The guide RNA has to be recognized by the CRISPR-associated enzyme. The CRISPR-enzyme system has to be able to recruit biochemical activity to the targeted gene. And the activity of the CRISPR-enzyme system has to be controlled by a small-molecule drug.

Greenleaf's lab will test the first round of solutions and then return these data to the players with refinements that will guide their design work.