What will SHERLOCK discover?

By Grace Materne

In the last decade research has uncovered the potential and value of CRISPR-related technologies. CRISPR is an RNA-targeting enzyme which can be used to detect specific molecules in target DNA/RNA. SHERLOCK, a new form of CRISPR technology, has emerged through recent research performed by Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg.

SHERLOCK (Specific High-Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing) has a wide range of applications in both science research and clinical settings including: viral/bacterial outbreaks, antibiotic resistance, and detections of cancer. This new technique utilizes the Cas13a enzyme which is described as a promiscuous enzyme due to its collateral cleavage activity after it cleaves its target molecule. Recently, researches have increased the sensitivity of Cas13a a million fold, allowing it to detect any nucleic acid. The specificity of Cas13a increases its potential use in various treatments, especially in detecting cancerous DNA and studying the frequency of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In addition, SHERLOCK is a paper-based test that requires no refrigeration. This characteristic lets SHERLOCK be used in rural areas with very limited resources, such as a field clinic during an epidemic. Deb Hung, co-author and co-director of the Broad's Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program, comments on the future use of SHERLOCK saying, “There is still much work to be done, but if SHERLOCK can be developed to its full potential it could fundamentally change the diagnosis of common and emerging infectious diseases”. SHERLOCK is an exciting medical technology because it is complex in structure, but simple in application, allowing it to bring treatment from the lab to a rural crisis.


Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "New crispr-based diagnostic platform unveiled: New system adapts tool known for gene editing for rapid, inexpensive disease diagnosis." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170413141053.htm>.