This post was contributed by the gene editing team at the Allen Institute for Cell Science. Learn more by visiting the Allen Cell Explorer at allencell.org and the Allen Institute website at alleninstitute.org.
A classic challenge in cell biology is making sure that what we observe through the microscope represents reality as accurately as possible. This is especially true in the case of protein tagging to elucidate cellular structures. Overexpression methods flood the cell with protein, which can both interfere with a cell’s normal function and result in a ubiquitous background signal that makes it hard to visualize the precise location of the protein or structure of interest.
Endogenous gene tagging is an ideal solution because it allows for tagging and visualization of specific, individual proteins under endogenous regulatory control. But even with the advent of CRISPR/Cas9 technology, inserting large tags into a precise location in the genome is still inefficient, particularly in human cell lines. Furthermore, the quality control necessary to ensure the edited cells are behaving normally can be prohibitively expensive for many labs.