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Evolution of Brainbow: Using Cre-lox for Multicolor Labeling of Neurons

Posted by Mary Gearing on Apr 24, 2015 10:39:00 AM

CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing may be the hot new way to manipulate gene expression, but other gene manipulation systems remain valuable to biology. Cre-lox recombination, discovered in the 1980s, is one of the most important ways to spatially and temporally control gene expression, especially in in vivo models, and new Cre-lox based technologies are still being developed today. In this post, I will highlight the evolution of the  Brainbow multicolor labeling system - a perfect example of the continued utility of Cre-lox. Check out our previous blog post, Plasmids 101: Cre-lox, if you need a quick primer on how Cre-lox recombination works.

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Topics: Plasmid Technology, Genome Engineering, Fluorescent Proteins

CRISPR Meets Synthetic Biology: A Conversation with MIT’s Christopher Voigt

Posted by Kendall Morgan on Apr 22, 2015 10:06:00 AM

As Christopher Voigt explains it, his lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been “working on new experimental and theoretical methods to push the scale of genetic engineering, with the ultimate objective of genome design.” It’s genetic engineering on a genomic scale, with the expectation for major advances in agriculture, materials, chemicals, and medicine.

As they’ve gone along, Voigt’s group has also been assembling the toolbox needed for anyone to begin considering genetic engineering projects in a very big way. In one of his latest papers, published in Molecular Systems Biology in November, Voigt and Alex Nielsen describe what’s possible when multi-input CRISPR/Cas genetic circuits are linked to the regulatory networks within E. coli host cells.

We talked with Voigt about this collision that’s taking place between CRISPR technology and synthetic biology, the tools he’s making available through Addgene, and where all of it is likely to lead us in the future. 

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Topics: Genome Engineering, Investigator Feature, Synthetic Biology, CRISPR

CRISPR 101: Non-Homologous End Joining

Posted by Guest Blogger on Apr 16, 2015 11:45:08 AM

This post was contributed by David Wyatt and Dale Ramsden, UNC at Chapel Hill.

One advantage to using the CRISPR/Cas system for genome engineering is the fact that Cas9 can be easily programmed to make a DNA double strand break (DSB) in the genome wherever the user chooses. After the initial cut, the next steps in the process involve repairing chromosomal DSBs. It is important to know that cells possess two major repair pathways  Non-Homologous End Joining (NHEJ) and Homology Directed Repair (HDR) – and how these pathways work, as this could be relevant when planning your experiment. This blog has previously considered the HDR pathway; below we’ll discuss NHEJ, and how it impacts what happens to Cas9-mediated DSBs in the genome.

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Topics: Genome Engineering, CRISPR, CRISPR 101

Rewiring Metabolic Circuitry with CRISPR RNA Scaffolds [Video]

Posted by Guest Blogger on Apr 7, 2015 12:21:00 PM

This post was contributed by Adam Chin-Fatt, a Ph.D. student at the University of Western Ontario. Adam summarizes Zalatan JG, et al.'s recent paper, "Engineering Complex Synthetic Transcriptional Programs with CRISPR RNA Scaffolds." Adam has also created a video to help scientists visualize the concepts discussed in the paper.

The transcriptional control of multiple loci is deftly coordinated by the eukaryotic cell for the execution of many complex cellular behaviors, such as differentiation or metabolism. Our attempts to manipulate these cellular behaviors often fall short with the generation of various flux imbalances. The conventional approach has typically been to either systematically delete/overexpress endogenous genes or to introduce heterologous genes, but the trend of research has shifted in recent years toward tinkering with regulatory networks and multiplex gene control. However, these approaches are often met with the challenges of regulatory bottlenecks and their scope is limited by the lack of well characterized inducible promoters. Far removed from the bio-industry’s vision of ‘biofactories’, most successes in metabolic engineering have been limited to the overexpression of various metabolites in Escherichia coli or Saccharomyces cerevisiae with few techniques that are easily transferrable across host species or metabolic pathways. A new study takes us one step closer to the vision of metabolic biofactories by demonstrating the use of CRISPR-based RNA scaffolds to mimic natural transcriptional programs on multiple genes.

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Topics: Plasmid Technology, Genome Engineering, Synthetic Biology, CRISPR

CRISPR 101: Homology Directed Repair

Posted by Chari Cortez on Mar 12, 2015 1:48:00 PM

This post was updated on November 3, 2017.

DNA lesions are sites of structural or base-pairing damage of DNA. Perhaps the most harmful type of lesion results from breakage of both DNA strands – a double-strand break (DSB) – as repair of DSBs is paramount for genome stability. DSBs can be caused by intracellular factors such as nucleases and reactive oxygen species, or external forces such as ionizing radiation and ultraviolet light; however, these types of breaks occur randomly and unpredictably. To provide some control over the location of the DNA break, scientists have engineered plasmid-based systems that can target and cut DNA at specified sites. Regardless of what causes the DSB, the repair mechanisms function in the same way.

In this post, we will describe the general mechanism of homology directed repair with a focus on repairing breaks engineered in the lab for genome modification purposes.

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Topics: Genome Engineering, CRISPR, CRISPR 101

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