Futuristic tool views gene activity in real time

December 17th, 2008 - 2:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 17 (IANS) GeneVision, a tool developed by a team that includes Indian American researcher Dhruv Grover, has the uncanny ability to view the activity of any chosen gene in real time through a specially modified camera.GeneVision could enable military commanders to compare gene expression in victorious and defeated troops. Retailers could track genes related to craving as shoppers moved about a store.

The study correlates real-time gene expression with movement and behaviour for the first time. The proof-of-concept experiment in fruit flies opens a new door for the study of genes’ influence on behaviour.

The authors, from the University of Southern California (USC) and Cambridge University, tagged genes with a harmless molecule known as Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP).

When a gene was active, the flies gave off a fluorescent glow. A camera fitted with a special filter detected the glow, whose intensity was then measured automatically.

At the same time, a multiple-camera system designed by co-author and USC doctoral scholar Dhruv Grover tracked the movement of each fly in three dimensions. The result: an exact picture of gene activity at every point and time of a fly’s life.

“We can correlate behaviour with certain genes and find genes that may be responsible for certain behaviours,” Grover said.

The 3-D tracking and real-time measurement of gene activity are both firsts in live animal studies, the researchers said. The methods also delivered new insights on aging in the fruit fly, long a model organism for the study of biological processes.

The findings were published in BMC Biotechnology.

The genes are known to respond to oxidative stress. Co-author John Tower, associate professor of molecular and computational biology at USC, speculated that the genes were reacting to a sharp increase in oxidative stress as the fly began dying of natural causes, said a USC release.

Oxidation - the chemical process behind rust and food spoilage - takes place constantly in the body as a byproduct of metabolism. “Burning that fuel to produce energy is toxic,” Tower said.

Other animals soon will be studied the same way, Grover predicted.

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