Scientists at UC San Francisco have found a more precise way to turn off genes, a finding that will speed research discoveries and biotech advances and may eventually prove useful in reprogramming cells to regenerate organs and tissues.
The strategy borrows from the molecular toolbox of bacteria, using a protein employed by microbes to fight off viruses, according to the researchers, who describe the technique in the current issue of Cell.
Turning off genes is a major goal of treatments that target cancer and other diseases. In addition, the ability to turn genes off to learn more about how cells work is a key to unlocking the mysteries of biochemical pathways and interactions that drive normal development as well as disease progression.
"We've spent energy and effort to map the human genome, but we don't yet understand how the genetic blueprint leads to a human being, and how we can manipulate the genome to better understand and treat disease," said Wendell Lim, PhD, a senior author of the study. Lim is director of the UCSF Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology.
The new technology developed by the team of UCSF and UC Berkeley researchers is called CRISPR interference not to be confused with RNA interference, an already popular strategy for turning off protein production.
"CRISPR interference is a simple approach for selectively perturbing gene expression on a genome-wide scale," said Lei Stanley Qi, PhD, a UCSF Systems Biology Fellow who was the lead author of the Cell study. "This technology is an elegant way to search for any short DNA sequence in the genome, and to then control the expression of the gene where that sequence is located."
The technique will allow researchers to more easily and accurately trace patterns of gene activation and biochemical chains of events that take place within cells,
|Contact: Jeffrey Norris|
University of California - San Francisco