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Imaging single molecules opens new way to study gene expression, protein production



A team led by NIH Director’s Pioneer Award recipient X. Sunney Xie, Ph.D., of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., has developed new imaging methods to track gene expression and the production of individual protein molecules in single, living cells. This technical tour de force, published in papers in this week’s issues of Science and Nature, opens the way to studying the expression of many important proteins, including those that exist in low numbers in the cell and therefore cannot be investigated using current techniques.

Xie’s methods provide precise, quantitative data on single molecular events rather than averaged data from large groups of molecules. Averaged data--from standard genetic, biochemical, and microscopic techniques--often masks critical information about the regulation of specific genes.

This research was also supported by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Other federal funding came from the U.S. Department of Energy.


The findings appear in "Probing Gene Expression in Live Cells--One Protein Molecule at a Time," by Ji Yu, Jie Xiao, Xiaojia Ren, Kaiqin Lao, and X. Sunney Xie, published in Science on March 17, 2006; and in "Stochastic Protein Expression in Individual Cells at the Single Molecule Level," by Long Cai, Nir Friedman, and X. Sunney Xie, published in Nature on March 16, 2006. The Science article includes a movie of individual molecules being produced.


Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., NIGMS director and NIH Director’s Pioneer Award co-chair, is available to discuss these results and the Pioneer Award program. To schedule an interview, please contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301 or

Ann Dieffenbach | EurekAlert!
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