Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Visualizing Gene Activity May Provide Insight Into Development


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.”

“Cell fate decisions must be understood in order for any of the incredible medical potential of stem cell therapy to be realized,” adds Dave Kosman, a research scientist in the Bier and McGinnis laboratories and lead author on the paper

Multiplex labeling, as the technique is called, uses RNA tagged with a fluorescent molecule to signal that a gene is turned on. When a gene is “on” it produces RNA copies—gene transcripts—of itself. The biologists designed fluorescently-tagged RNA molecules that are complementary to the gene transcripts, and bind to them like Velcro. Therefore a fluorescent beacon reveals the existence and location of the RNA gene copy.

“Multiplex labeling has allowed us to directly map the activation patterns of micro-RNA genes, which were hitherto undetectable,” says William McGinnis, a professor of biology at UCSD and co-principal investigator of the study. “Micro-RNAs were known to be important in development, but this is the first evidence indicating that these genes can control the embryonic body plan.”

Different colored fluorescent molecules can be used to identify transcripts from different genes in the same cell. It works even if one gene is much more active than another, because the amount of fluorescence of each color is quantified separately.

“When using the microscope to measure the fluorescence, the light is fanned out into a rainbow, and each color is read through a separate channel,” explains Bier. “That way if the light is 90 percent blue and ten percent yellow, it might look blue to the naked eye, but the microscope detects each color present.”

According to Bier, multiplex labeling fills a gap in developmental biologists’ toolkit between gene chips, which can identify several hundred gene transcripts at a time, but not their location, and methods that can reveal the identity and location of up to three gene transcripts simultaneously—though not if they are in the same cell. So far the researchers have used multiplex labeling to visualize the activity of up to seven genes at the same time, but they predict it will be possible to increase this to 50.

Newly developed, ultra-bright fluorescent molecules make the multiplex labeling technique possible. The fluorescent molecules were provided by Molecular Probes, Inc., and the company’s scientists also shared their expertise with the UCSD researchers. Developing an effective way to attach the fluorescent molecule to the RNAs complementary to the gene transcripts, and perfecting the overall labeling process were also pivotal in the development of the technique.

“Up until now visualizing gene transcripts has been more art than science,” says Kosman. “There was a lot of trial and error involved. We have developed a reliable technique that is powerful enough to generate a molecular fingerprint of the gene activity in a single cell.”

Bier contrasted the level of detail revealed with multiplex labeling and previous techniques for visualizing gene activity as being akin to “the difference between looking at the stars through a telescope versus binoculars.” The researchers point out that while they have refined the technique in Drosophila embryos, it will likely require modifications to work in other organisms. A detailed guide to the labeling process accompanying the paper, and available through Science’s website, should facilitate the necessary adaptations.

Other UCSD contributors to the paper were Claudia M. Mizutani and Derek Lemons and W. Gregory Cox was a contributor from Molecular Probes, Inc. This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

| newswise
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Strong, steady forces at work during cell division
20.10.2016 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Disturbance wanted
20.10.2016 | Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>