Step one in any project involving genetic modification is to get the genes you want into the cells you want changed. Traditionally, this meant shooting microscopic DNA-coated bullets at the cells and hoping the DNA got inside without blowing the cells to smithereens. It sounds messy, and it is. Now, researchers in South Korea have devised a super-precise method for inserting DNA into cells, and it’s powered by lasers.
Using a brief pulse from a femtosecond laser, researchers are able to punch a tiny hole in the membrane of an individual cell. The foreign DNA is manouvered through the hole and into place inside the cell using a laser-powered tractor beam, or “optical tweezers,” that can move microscopic particles using light. While prior DNA insertion processes relied on throwing lots of DNA at lots of cells and hoping some of it would get to the right spot, this is the first time scientists can guide DNA into an individual cell.
With this technique, scientists get a much more precise method of insuring that the DNA gets into the cells, every time. This could revolutionise all of the fields where gene manipulation takes place, from stupid stuff like glow in the dark plants to the most cutting-edge medical therapies. Compared to this laser technique, the old gene gun method seems like it came from the Old West. [PhysOrg]