From neurosurgery to bar code readers, lasers have been used in a myriad of applications since they were first introduced in the late 1950's. Now, with the work being done in Jeff Gelles' Lab at Brandeis University, researchers have developed a way to use lasers to study the splicing of pre-messenger RNA molecules, an essential process in creating proteins to sustain advanced organisms, including human life. This process of splicing is carried out by a cellular micro-machine called the spliceosome.
"Understanding how these micro-machines function inside the cell is important for many reasons," says Aaron A. Hoskins, a post-doctoral fellow who is a visiting scientist at Brandeis and first author of the paper "Ordered and Dynamic Assembly of Single Spliceosomes," which appears in the March 11, 2011 issue of Science.
"One is to further [decipher] basic biologywhat makes us humansand another is to understand how diseases related to these different machines come about," says Hoskins. By understanding how the process works, researchers may eventually be able to come up with therapies that fix the splicing process in cases where it is not working properly.
The paper reports on a five-year-long collaboration of three research laboratories with diverse expertise to study the splicing process. In addition to Hoskins, authors include: Gelles, the Aron and Imre Tauber professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, whose lab developed the multi-laser imaging system used in the research; Larry Friedman a senior scientist in the biochemistry department who was a key contributor in building the elaborate microscope; Melissa J. Moore, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and members of Virginia Cornish's laboratory in the Department of Chemistry at Columbia University whose lab synthesized the special dyes that were a
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