Lighting Up the Duke 'D' With Genes

Posted: February 10, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Light-activated genes might be precisely controlled and targeted

By Ken Kingery

Duke University researchers have devised a method to activate genes in any specific location or pattern in a lab dish with the flip of a light switch by crossing a bacteriums viral defense system with a flowers response to sunlight.

With the ability to use light to activate genes in specific locations, researchers can better study genes functions, create complex systems for growing tissue, and perhaps eventually realize science-fiction-like healing technologies.

The study was led by Charles Gersbach, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, and published on February 9 in Nature Chemical Biology.

Researchers demonstrate their new technique to control genes by shining light through a Duke D stencil to turn on fluorescent genes in cells.

The new technique targets specific genes using an emerging genetic engineering system called CRISPR/Cas9. Discovered as the system bacteria use to identify viral invaders and slice up their DNA, the system was co-opted by researchers to precisely target specific genetic sequences.

The Duke scientists then turned to another branch of the evolutionary tree to make the system light-activated.

In many plants, two proteins lock together in the presence of light, allowing plants to sense the length of day which determines biological functions like flowering. By attaching the CRISPR/Cas9 system to one of these proteins and gene-activating proteins to the other, the team was able to turn several different genes on or off just by shining blue light on the cells.

Charles Gersbach

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Lighting Up the Duke 'D' With Genes

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