To study gene expression, researchers usually need to introduce specific DNA sequences into cells, and then they analyze the reactions of those cells. While this method works, it isn’t a simple one, and results can vary from one experiment to another.
The new method employs a cell-free system
A team of scientists from the EPFL’s Laboratory of Biological Network Characterization (LBNC) led by Sebastian Maerkl managed to develop a brand new method. Not only that this new method allows them to study gene expression, but it could even help them anticipate it.
More than that, this new system does not require living cells. Nadanai Laohakunakorn is the co-author of the study, and he explained how this method works: “First we extract material from inside the cells. This ‘cell-free’ system consists of enzymes and chemicals that the cells use to carry out their normal biological processes. Interestingly, we can restart gene expression outside the cell by feeding the extract with fuel and information, in the form of high-energy phosphates and DNA. Because the process closely mimics what happens in living cells, we can use our platform to investigate a range of biological phenomena without having to modify living cells each time.”
The new system is useful in studying gene expression
Researchers also constructed a biological logic gate with some gates from their library. This gate generates a binary output – a gene can be either repressed or activated.
“Numerous logic gates exist naturally within living cells, which use them to regulate normal biological function,” says Laohakunakorn. “By building artificial gates, we gain the ability to introduce new functions into cells for therapeutic purposes, for example. The cell-free system is the first step in this direction, and future work could involve optimizing the design of our transcription factors using the platform, before deploying them directly in a cell-free application, or reintroducing them back into living cells.”
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