Researchers create new technique to determine what specific genes do

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Scientists have developed a new way to determine what our genes may do, which will allow them to better probe the genetic causation of diseases and determine if new drugs will act on the intended target.

The University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers believe the new tool they have created may revolutionize the study of biological systems by offering improvements, such as the ability to sort genes' immediate effects from the chain reactions that follow.

According to a release, in order to develop this technique, the researchers needed one ingredient, and they found it in plants.

Since genes can play many roles in keeping a cell organism alive, so scientists will often block a function of the genes are to see what changes the result.

"In biology, if we want to figure out how a system works, we break it and see what happens," said Michael J. Guertin, PhD, with UVA's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. "The problems with that approach is that is you make a mutation in a gene, or you delete a gene, then that can perturb the entire system for hours, days or sometimes, an entire lifetime."

Certain genes are also essential, which makes blocking them, even in lab mice, impossible and makes it difficult to study certain diseases.

The release says, even when it is possible to block a gene, it is hard to identify what exactly the gene is doing by looking at the many changes resulting from blocking it.

So the researchers developed a new technique that allows scientists to rapidly degrade the proteins a gene makes, which essentially blocks the gene's function.

This technique, using a piece of a plant protein, gives scientists more precision and control, degrading the proteins in minutes without many of the "downstream" effects that normally accompany the process.

The release says this allowed the researchers to sort the immediate effects from subsequent ones.

It says the improved technique has already drawn great interest from other labs that are doing similar work and having other labs adopt the technique can offer big benefits.

For example, the new system makes it easier to determine if a drug is really working as intended, which is a key step in creating new treatments.

The release says this technique also helped with the understanding of plant biology and could lead to the development of better, safer weed killers.

The information about the improved technique has been published in the scientific journal Genes and Development.

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