Researchers at Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) are developing optogenetic tools that could enable real-time activation of target genes in specific locations in the genome. This technology may help scientists to illuminate the gene function during different biological processes, which could be useful in regenerative medicine. Calcium plays an important role in this system, as its signals regulate a number of activities within the cell, from growth and metabolism to homeostasis.
Yubin Zhou, Ph.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology, is leading development of the calcium-responsive transcriptional reprogramming tool (dubbed CaRROT). This system can control the transcription of genes within the body with high precision – it can dictate how, when, and where genes create proteins that perform various cellular functions. CaRROT uses a pulse of light or chemicals that can induce the flow of calcium ions into cells, which Zhou says should allow scientists to turn on or off a diverse array of genes at any location by switching the light or adding or withdrawing activating compounds.