Nov 4, 2022

Alternative Gene Splicing — Another Method of Bioengineering

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biotech/medical, genetics

Genetic engineering is a rapidly progressing scientific discipline, with tremendous current application and future potential. It’s a bit dizzying for a science communicator who is not directly involved in genetics research to keep up. I do have some graduate level training in genetics so at least I understand the language enough to try to translate the latest research for a general audience.

Many readers have by now heard of CRISPR – a powerful method of altering or silencing genes that brings down the cost and complexity so that almost any genetics lab can use this technique. CRISPR is actually just the latest of several powerful gene-altering techniques, such as TALEN. CRISPR is essentially a way to target a specific sequence of the DNA, and then deliver a package which does something, like splice the DNA. But you also need to target the correct cells. In a petri dish, this is simple. But in living organism, this is a huge challenge. We have developed several viral vectors that can be targeted to specific cell types in order to deliver the CRIPR (or TALEN), which then targets the specific DNA.

Now I would like to present a different technique I have not previously written about here – alternative splicing. A recent study presents what seems like a significant advance in this technology, so it’s a good time to review it. “Alternative splicing” refers to a natural phenomenon of genetics. Genes are composed of introns and exons. I always thought the nomenclature was counterintuitive, but the exons are actually the part of the gene that gets expressed into a protein. The introns are the part that is not expressed, so they are cut out of the gene when it is being converted into mRNA, and the exons are stitched together to form the sequence that is translated into a protein. Alternative splicing refers to the fact that the way in which the introns are removed and the exons stitched together can vary, creating alternative forms of the resulting protein.

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