New Technique Enables Continuous Variation of Gene Expression; Powerful Tool for Genetic Engineering

A new technique will help biologists tinker with genes, whether the goal is to turn cells into tiny factories churning out medicines, modify crops to grow with limited water, or study the effects of a gene on human health. The technique, described online on January 20, 2017 in Nature Communications, allows scientists to precisely regulate how much protein is produced from a particular gene. The open-access article is titled “Rapid Generation of Hypomorphic Mutations.” The process is simple yet innovative and, so far, works in everything from bacteria to plants to human cells. "Basically, this is a universal toolkit for modifying gene expression," said Sergej Djuranovic (photo), Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and the study's senior author. "It's a tool that can be used whether you are genetically engineering cells to produce a particular organic molecule, or to study how a gene works." The ability to control the amount of protein produced from a particular gene would be a boon to biologists who design or redesign biological systems - such as the set of biochemical reactions that make up cellular metabolism - to produce a desired product. For example, some drugs - including antibiotics such as vancomycin and cancer drugs such as taxol - are produced by cells as byproducts of metabolism. By fine-tuning certain genes a biologist could maximize the quantity of medicine produced. Dr. Djuranovic himself is interested in modulating gene expression to study disease-related genes, such as ones implicated in cancer. "There are all sorts of complex diseases such as cancer and autism in which we know that expression from a particular gene is dialed down, but nobody knows how that reduction is contributing to the disease," Dr.
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