Ethical concerns aside, gene therapy is a really exciting area of science. How cool to explore the functions of DNA and cellular machinery by inserting exactly what you want into a cell of your choice. How many options to treat disease, create better crops or fun novelties like glow in the dark cats.
As an undergrad, when we played with inserting genes into E-coli and yeast we would take a whole bunch of cells and mix them in a tube with the DNA we wanted them to absorb. Then we’d “shock” the cells by heating them up and cooling them, so that – hopefully – a small percentage would be so stunned they would just nom up all the bits of DNA and incorporate them into their own genome. Then would be the tedious bit of plating them out onto agar that contained antibiotics or whatever and checking that they really did take up your bit of DNA that gave them resistance to antibiotics.
Needless to say, it wasn’t easy and many bacteria died in the process – either when I shocked them or, most likely, when I plated them on poison (oh the blood on my hands! Out damn spot.) So I found this press release really exciting.
Scientists from South Korea poked holes in single cells using a high-powered femtosecond laser. Then, with the finesse of a golfer on the green, gently popped in a polystyrene-based microparticle coated in DNA using optical tweezers. The tweezers use laser beams like magnets to attract or repel polar chemicals.
The method of poking holes, or pores, into cells with lasers already existed, as did optical tweezer technology. This research combined the two to ensure that the DNA was specifically inserted into one cell- a big boost in precision.
One of the cool things about this is that it can be done without opening the petri dish, unlike microinjection. With microinjection, which I guess is like those videos where people poke DNA into an egg for cloning, there’s a chance of contamination.
Another benefit is that the microparticle they inserted could be modified to sense things in the cell, rather than just delivering a payload of DNA. So there are a whole bunch of useful functions that they could explore with this technique.
A third benefit – you can play GOLF AT A CELLULAR LEVEL! That is just geekery at its finest. The next question for researchers will be – can you get lab coats to match golf pants?
The paper is open access and available here.