The researchers believe the new tool could revolutionize the study of biological systems by offering an exciting improvement: the ability to sort genes' immediate effects from the complex chain reactions that follow.
To develop the improved technique, all the researchers needed was a missing ingredient, and they found it in plants.
Gene - Gene - Roles - Cell - Organism
Understanding what a specific gene does is very challenging. One gene can play many roles in keeping a cell or organism alive, and so scientists often block the function of genes to see what changes will result. That, however, can be like trying to figure out how a car works by manufacturing a car that is missing a part, then observing the car only after it is irrevocably damaged and sent to a junkyard. The car no longer works, but why?
"In biology, if we want to figure out how a system works, we break it and see what happens," explained Michael J. Guertin, PhD, of UVA's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. "The problem with that approach is that if you make a mutation in a gene, or you delete a gene, then that can perturb the entire system for hours, days or, sometimes, an entire lifetime."
Approach - Drawbacks - Certain - Genes - Lab
That approach comes with some big drawbacks. Certain genes are essential, so blocking them, even in lab mice, simply isn't possible. That makes it hard to study certain diseases. And even when it is possible, it's hard to identify exactly what a gene is doing by looking at the many changes that result from blocking it.
The researchers were well familiar with the traditional system and its limitations. Sathyan knew, for example, that it was originally based...
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