A new type of genetic screen for human cells to pinpoint specific genes and proteins used by pathogens has been developed by Whitehead researchers. Their findings are reported in the latest issue of Science.
In most human cell cultures genes are present in two copies: one inherited from the father and one from the mother. Gene inactivation by mutation is therefore inefficient because when one copy is inactivated, the second copy usually remains active and takes over.
In yeast, researchers have it easier: they use yeast cells in which all genes are present in only one copy (haploid yeast). Now Carette and co-workers have used a similar approach and used a human cell line, in which nearly all human chromosomes are present in a single copy.
In this rare cell line, Carette and co-workers generated mutations in almost all human genes and used this collection to screen for the host genes used by pathogens. By exposing those cells to influenza or to various bacterial toxins, the authors isolated mutants that were resistant to them. Carette then identified the mutated genes in the surviving cells, which code for a transporter molecule and an enzyme that the influenza virus hijacks to take over cells.