The method may be an improvement over conventional identification techniques, which can take months to years. By using a nonviral gene expression system to inhibit the expression of specific genes in zebrafish, the scientists isolated gene function without destroying the gene, says Thomas E. Wagner, distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology at Ohio University and a principal scientist in the university's Edison Biotechnology Institute. The research was reported in a recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Our system allows us to stop gene expression long enough to study the gene, then it returns to normal," Wagner says. The technique, dubbed a "knockdown" gene strategy, is much faster than conventional "knockout" methods used to identify gene function. "We're talking a difference between three years with the current methods and two days with ours."
The technique could be valuable to scientists working on the human genome project, a worldwide effort to decipher the sequence of the genetic material present in the human body. Identifying a gene sequence is the first step to identifying gene function, which is necessary for the study of genetic disease.
Although approximately 70 to 80 percent of the human genome has been
sequenced, gene identification is moving at a much slower pace, Wagner says.
Using conventional methods, genes cannot be identified until their entire
sequence is known. The sequence information is used to generate transgenic
animals in which the gene of interest is disrupted and made nonfunctional.
Researchers then study the differences between these transgenic animals and
Contact: Kelli Whitlock