A technique developed by University of California, San Diego biologists, which uses bright fluorescent dyes to reveal the activity of genes in individual cells of an organism, promises to be a boon to developmental biologists, and may provide new insight into how cancerous tumors begin and grow.
The advance, described in the August 6 issue of Science, allows researchers, for the first time, to simultaneously visualize the activity of multiple genes in the same cell. The combination of genes that are active in a particular cell during development determines that cell’s fate—what type of cell it becomes. The advance also makes it possible to quantify how active a gene is, and even infer the genetic makeup of an organism.
“In addition to facilitating our own research on fruit fly development, there are many potential applications for this technique,” says Ethan Bier, a professor of biology at UCSD who led the research team. “For example, it could be used to understand how tumors arise and grow, by revealing what genes are turned on and when. With this information, it should be possible for cancer biologists to predict how aggressive a tumor will be from its early patterns of gene expression.”
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