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The light-activated genetic switch could be used to turn genes on and off in gene therapies; to turn off gene expression in future cancer therapies; and to help track and understand gene function in specific locations in the human body.
The team, led by bioengineers at the University of California San Diego, recently detailed their findings online in ACS Synthetic Biology.
Genes - Body - Location - Time - Elements
"Being able to control genes deep in the body in a specific location and at a specific time, without adding external elements, is a goal our community has long sought," said Todd Coleman, a professor of bioengineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and one of the paper's corresponding authors. "We are controlling genes with the most desirable wavelengths of light."
The researchers' success in building the switch relied on two insights. First, animal cells don't have the machinery to supply electrons to make molecules that would be sensitive to red light. It's the equivalent of having a hair dryer and a power outlet from a foreign country, but no power cord and no power outlet adapter. So researchers led by UC San Diego postdoctoral researcher Phillip Kyriakakis went about building those.
Power - Cord - Bacterial - Plant - Ferredoxin
For the power cord, they used bacterial and plant ferredoxin, an iron and sulfur protein that brings about electron transfer in a number of reactions. Ferredoxin exists under a different form in animal cells, which isn't compatible with its plant and bacteria cousin. So an enzyme called Ferredoxin-NADP reductase, or FNR, played the role of outlet adapter.
As a result, the animal cells could now transfer enough electrons from their energy supply to other enzymes that can produce the light-sensitive molecules needed for the light-activated switch.
The second insight...
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