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M. D. Anderson scientist wins NIH New Innovator Award
Date:9/25/2009

uning Gene Expression

Balzsi and colleagues have created gene circuits that allow them to tightly control expression of a gene, dialing it from completely off through varying levels of expression to full saturation. A newly developed circuit also will permit them to control fluctuations in gene expression. This unique degree of control allows more detailed investigation of the gene's effects.

The gene circuits are taken up by cells in a yeast culture, which will then be treated by a drug. Applying measured doses of a chemical that regulates the gene circuits will allow the researchers to tune "demographic" characteristics of gene activity over the yeast cell population, such as the average expression, deviations from the average and the rate of fluctuations in the expression of the drug-resistance gene.

Yeast is an excellent proxy for cancer, Balzsi explained. "Yeast cells are always "cancerous" because they grow indefinitely as long as we supply them with nutrients. Take a normal differentiated human cell, or any mammalian, plant or insect cell, put it in a dish: it will die very soon. Take a yeast cell, put it in a dish: it will divide until it runs out of sugars, just like cancer."

Many drug resistance proteins, such as those that pump drugs out of a cell, are similar between human and yeast cells, Balzsi said.

The cell cultures will be kept under treatment long enough to monitor how they evolve under stress and to gauge the durability of the gene circuits. "We put together synthetic gene circuits, but what happens to them over time? How stable is the gene activity that they confer? Is it inheritable? We hope to find out," Balzsi said.

Balzsi and colleagues are synthetic biologists, a growing field that involves applying engineering principles to design and build new biological parts or devices.

"Gbor Balzsi is a leader in the field of synthetic biology. By exploring how levels of proteins ar
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Contact: Scott Merville
smerville@mdanderson.org
713-792-0661
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Source:Eurekalert

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