When neuroscience graduate student Silvana Konermann first entered
Feng Zhang’s lab
at MIT, the use of customizable DNA-binding domains based on
transcription-activator-like effectors (TALEs)
as anchors for genome engineering applications was still very new. Now, Konermann and her colleagues including Zhang and Mark Brigham have taken the technology to another level with the addition of two light-sensitive ingredients - CRY2 and CIB1 – which they borrowed from
. The results are light-inducible transcriptional effectors (LITEs) designed to bind specific genes and turn them on or off, literally at the flip of a (blue) light switch.
Zhang’s team devised the plasmids now available in Addgene’s repository for use in neurons, both in culture and in living brain tissue. “The brain is such an amazing and dynamic organ,” Konermann explained. “It helps us adapt to influences in our environments. We are able to react and learn. All of this requires genes to be regulated dynamically.”