Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Nov. 24, 2021

Coronavirus and RNA expert Cameron Myhrvold, an assistant professor of molecular biology, straddles the boundary between fundamental research and groundbreaking technological developments. “His spectacular new technologies enable him and his collaborators to solve fundamentally important problems of current biomedical urgency,” said department chair Bonnie Bassler.

A key weapon in his arsenal is CRISPR-Cas13. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because in 2020, the Nobel Prize in chemistry went to the scientists behind CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing tool that allows precise cuts in DNA. Not as much attention has been paid to CRISPR-Cas13, the tool that Myhrvold uses to detect, cut, and sometimes shred RNA (DNA’s lesser-known, single-helix cousin).

Some simple organisms, including many viruses, encode their blueprints in RNA. Myhrvold’s shredding Cas13 application holds promise for an antiviral treatment for diseases including HIV, the common cold, influenza and, yes, COVID-19.

“A Cas13-based antiviral medication is still many years away, but that’s definitely an area we’re excited about,” said Myhrvold. “It’s an exciting approach because, as long as we can deliver it to the right parts of your body to be effective, we can eventually treat any virus that’s infecting that part of your body. Maybe the next outbreak is a flu again, like in 1918, or maybe it’s Ebola or something else entirely different. We want to have versatile tools at our disposal.”