AMHERST, Mass. In the cover story for the journal Genetics this month, neurobiologist Dan Chase and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst describe a new experimental technique they developed that will allow scientists to study the function of individual proteins in individual cell types in a living organism.
The advance should allow deeper insights into protein function, Chase says, "because we can only get a true understanding of what that single protein does when we isolate its function in a living organism. There was no tool currently available to do this."
The journal's cover art uses a jigsaw puzzle of a worm to illustrate how knockdown strategies in this organism have evolved over time to achieve more and more cell-type specificity, culminating in the new approach developed by the Chase lab, which can restrict knockdown to a single cell type.
"This strategy is super cool and it works great," he says. "We've already used it to tease apart some of the mechanisms of dopamine signaling, but the strategy can be adapted to study the function of any protein involved in any biological process."
There are more than 1 trillion cells in the human body, yet only 20,000 to 25,000 genes are expressed in them, Chase explains, so each gene must be expressed in many different cells. Understanding the function of 20,000 genes and whether this differs by cell type has been difficult, but over the last 10 years, he adds, "we have learned that the answer to this last question is a resounding yes. Gene function can differ by cell type."
Pursuing this further, however, was hampered by the fact that traditional approaches for studying protein function rely on genetic mutations that act on DNA, so they disrupt protein function in ALL cells. And to understand what a protein really does, it must be studied in an individual cell in a living organism.
Specifically, Chase's lab uses the roundworm C
|Contact: Janet Lathrop|
University of Massachusetts at Amherst