London, May 28 : In what may have broad implications for genetic research, scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) have developed a new technique that can improve their ability to target individual genes for inactivation.
The researchers said that they used their new technique to create and deliver a tailor-made "restriction enzyme" which inactivated a specific gene in a zebrafish embryo.
"The best way to figure out what a gene does in an organism is to replace it with a non-functional version, breed the individual, and then look at the offspring to see what's wrong with them," Nature magazine quoted Dr. Laurie Tompkins, who oversees genetic mechanisms grants at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, as saying.
"The problem is that it's hard to swap in non-functional genes that are inherited by the offspring. These investigators have devised a way to do this, which will enable many scientists to answer questions that were previously out of reach," Dr. Tompkins added.
Assistant Professor Scot A. Wolfe, one of the lead researchers behind this discovery, said: "We believe that this work will fundamentally change how researchers make knockouts-research organisms in which one or more genes have been genetically engineered to be turned off-in many model organisms."
"In this paper, we demonstrate the feasibility of this approach for gene inactivation using the zebrafish, but we believe that this technology should be applicable to other vertebrate and non-vertebrate systems with exciting implications for the development of new models for the study of human disease," the researcher added.
The researchers believe that their technique would enable them to make zebrafish models that may provide insight into the progression of human vascular disease.