One of the most powerful tools in today’s biological and medical science is the ability to artificially remove and add bits of DNA to an organism’s genome. This has helped scientists to understand problems caused by defective genes, for example, which have now been linked to thousands of human diseases. So far the technology has been limited to small segments of DNA. But four years ago, Francis Stewart and his colleagues at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg) developed a new technique to engineer greater stretches of DNA in bacteria. The researchers, now working at the Biotec-Technical University in Dresden, have just used this method to engineer a complex set of changes in a mouse gene, in hopes of shedding light on human leukemias. Their work appears in the current edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Over two decades ago, researchers learned to use bacteria as "copy machines" for DNA taken from other organisms. This was a huge step for biotechnology, because most types of research require billions of copies of a molecule under investigation. However, there was a limitation: researchers need to change the DNA molecules in precise ways and for large molecules, such as whole genes, this was tremendously difficult.
Stewart and his colleagues thought that bacteria could be taught to do better, so they "borrowed" a strategy that organisms such as mice and yeast use to repair breaks in DNA. Proteins called recombinases circulate through their cells, looking for loose DNA fragments that have familiar sequences.
Russ Hodge | EurekAlert!
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