Genes temporarily turned-off
Scientists have created a new method to temporarily turn off the function of genes in mice. The technique will enable researchers to investigate specific genes as potential targets for medicines.
It is currently possible to turn genes off in animals, but for essential genes the animal may die before its function can be determined. With the new technique, researchers can turn the gene back on again before the animal dies.
Using the method, researchers were able to turn off a gene for DNA replication in mice. Unable to produce important proteins used in the replication process, the mice intestines quickly wasted away and they lost weight. The mice would normally die within ten days, but turning the gene back on just before they died enabled the mice to make a full recovery.
It is hoped to use the technique in developing new treatments for cancer. Researchers will be able to turn off different genes in mice with tumours to see if any could be an effective target for medicines.
Researchers suppressed genes using short small hairpin-shaped molecules of RNA that attach to the target gene's RNA and stop it from working.
Researchers were able to trigger the production of the hairpin RNA, and so switch off the gene, using a common antibiotic called tetracycline. They followed where the gene was being switched off in the body by tagging the hairpin RNA with a fluorescent biomarker.
As the technique allows genes to be turned off temporarily, it will more accurately mimic the action of single dose medicine treatments that target genes.
The technique will also allow researchers to pinpoint the timescales on which different genes function.