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Light switch

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11:53am, August 28, 2007

From Boston, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society

Switching off a gene is now as simple as flicking on a light.

Working with zebrafish, a favorite model organism for biologists, Ilya A. Shestopalov and his colleagues at Stanford University showed that, once activated by ultraviolet light, a molecule called a photocaged morpholino can dampen a specific gene.

The molecule is made up of two parallel strips. One strip is an antisense molecule, which binds tightly to protein-coding RNA to shut down protein production. The other strip is an inhibitor that prevents the antisense molecule from doing so.

A light-sensitive bond connects the two strips. A 10-second pulse of ultraviolet light breaks the bond, liberating the antisense strip and allowing it to clamp down on the target gene product.

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