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Illuminating Spots

Revealing a protein's role in living cells by replacing them with a light-sensitive variant by gene editing

16 March 2023

Illuminating Spots

Imagine an engine made from millions of interconnected parts. To understand how it works, one way would be to pick out one part, break it, pop it back and see what happens – with the engine still running. Now imagine that engine’s a cell. This is the complicated and time-consuming challenge researchers face. Now, they present a quick and easy way to interfere with living cells using genome editing. In neurons, they genetically-engineered EB1 – a protein that binds cell scaffolding called microtubules – to make it light-sensitive. Exposing neurons to blue light made EB1 stop working. This caused microtubules in the growing ends of neurons to break down. Using fluorescence microscopy (pictured), they revealed that shining a spot of blue light on these genetically-engineered neurons (top) caused them to retract away from the spot in contrast to normal neurons (bottom). This illustrates the usefulness of this approach for rapid interventions in cell processes.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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