In a welcome development, scientists have successfully visualized single molecules of naturally occurring messenger RNA (mRNA) transcribed in living mammalian cells.
The breakthrough discovery achieved by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, US, could eventually shed light on how gene expression influences human disease.
Gene expression involves transcribing a gene's DNA into molecules of mRNA.
These molecules then migrate from a cell's nucleus into the cytoplasm, where they serve as blueprints for protein construction.
Robert Singer and his colleagues generated a transgenic mouse in which genes coding for the structural protein beta actin would, when expressed, yield fluorescently labelled mRNA.
Beta actin mRNA is a highly expressed molecule found in all mammalian tissues.
The technique used by the Einstein researchers could be applicable for monitoring the expression of any gene of interest.
"Our report is the first demonstration that our technique can be used to visualize the expression of an essential gene in mammalian cells," said lead author Timothee Lionnet.
""We can study beta actin RNA molecules over their life cycle in a variety of cell types and discover where they are distributed within the cell. This has important consequences for human disease like cancer, since the way molecules of mRNA are localized within tumor cells correlates with the ability of these cells to spread, or metastasise," he added.
The scientific achievement is detailed in the January 16 online edition of Nature Methods.