Scientists at UMass Medical School have developed a new technology using CRISPR/Cas9 that allows researchers to track and tag up to seven different genomic locations in live cells. The details of the new labeling system, dubbed CRISPRainbow, were published in Nature Biotechnology. The scientists claim the technology would prove to be an invaluable tool for studying the structure of the genome in real time.
Research specialist Hanhui Ma, PhD, has co-authored the study with Thoru Pederson, PhD, professor of cell biology. Ma said though majority of people were using CRISPR for editing genomes, they were primarily using it to label DNA and track the movement of DNA in live cells.
Professor Pederson added that as genes that control our biology and health do so according to their location in 3-dimensional space, knowing precise location of genomic elements in live cells becomes important to understand chromosome dynamics. A gene must be accessible on the chromosome in case it has to be transcribed and expressed, the scientists informed.
But a limitation of current technologies is that these can only follow maximum three genomic locations at a time in live cells.
If more sites are to be labeled, it becomes imperative that cells are fixed by bathing them in formaldehyde. This process kills the cells and makes it impossible to observe how the chromosome's structure changes over time or in response to stimuli.
“With this technology, we can visualize different chromosome loci at different points in time. And we can monitor them to see how far and fast these loci move. With this, we can see how these structural changes affect the genes being expressed and their relation to health and disease”, said study co-author Li-Chun Tu, PhD, postdoctoral associate in the lab of David Grunwald, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and pharmacology at UMMS.