DNA Autocorrect

Text message with an autocorrected word


Autocorrect is great for our phones. But what about our DNA?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

DNA is made of building blocks called bases. These bases spell out the blueprints for our cells! Sometimes, mistakes are made, and the wrong base gets swapped in. This changes the meaning of the DNA. The same way a wrong letter can change a word.

So how do we correct these misspellings?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the genetic engineering technique CRISPR. CRISPR uses a guidance system to edit DNA. It’s like a genetic GPS! It cuts out sequences of DNA bases, replacing them with new ones. But this can lead to unwanted mutations.

So Nicole Gaudelli at Harvard figured out how to target just the spelling errors. Gaudelli’s DNA editor uses the same GPS system to navigate to mutation sites. But it doesn’t cut and replace sequences of DNA. Instead, it simply replaces individual bases, correcting the misspelling!

This new editor corrected about fifty percent of mutated cells. Fixing these mistakes is important for curing diseases like cystic fibrosis!

If only my iPhone’s autocorrect were that powerful! And accurate.


Gaudelli, N. M., Komor, A. C., Rees, H. A., Packer, M. S., Badran, A. H., Bryson, D. I., & Liu, D. R. (2017). Programmable base editing of A•T to G•C in genomic DNA without DNA cleavage. Nature, 551(7681), 464–471. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature24644