SALT LAKE CITY, April 25, 2010 Knocking genes out of action allows researchers to learn what genes do by seeing what goes wrong without them. University of Utah biologists pioneered the field. Mario Capecchi won a Nobel Prize for developing knockout mice. Kent Golic found a way to cripple fruit fly genes. Now, biologist Erik Jorgensen and colleagues have devised a procedure for knocking out genes in nematode worms.
"We developed a method that allows us to walk through the worm genome and determine the function of each gene, and thereby infer the function of these genes in humans," says Jorgensen, a biology professor, senior author of a new study outlining the technique, and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The study shows how a transposon or "jumping gene" can be used to delete specific genes from the 1-millimeter-long nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans. It was scheduled for online publication Sunday, April 25 in the journal Nature Methods.
"We are trying to understand how genes work and are regulated, and the easiest way to do that is to use a simple organism," says University of Utah postdoctoral fellow Christian Frkjr-Jensen, the study's first author. "The amazing thing is that cellular processes in a lowly worm are similar to the biology in humans. We've made it much easier and faster to change the genetic blueprint of a simple worm so we can study and understand how genes are regulated."
Jorgensen adds: "We want to know what human genes do because they allow us to do all the wonderful things we do run, speak, live and understand what goes wrong in genetic diseases and how we can possibly treat them."
Capecchi, a distinguished professor of human genetics, shared the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with two other researchers who independently developed gene targeting in mice in the 1980s. Golic, a professor of biology, published his key papers on targe
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University of Utah