The applications of genetic engineering and gene therapy are broad. It covers everything from pet fish that glow red to increased crop yields worldwide to cures for many of the diseases that plague humankind.
But realizing them always starts with solving the same basic scientific question—how to "transfect" a cell by inserting foreign DNA into it. Many methods already exist for doing this, but they tend to be clumsy and destructive, not allowing researchers to precisely control how and when they insert the DNA or requiring them to burn through large numbers of cells before they can get it into one.
A team of scientists in South Korea have now developed the most precise method ever used to insert DNA into cells. The method combines two high-tech laboratory techniques and allows the researchers to precisely poke holes on the surface of a single cell with a high-powered "femtosecond" laser and then gently tug a piece of DNA through it using "optical tweezers," which draw on the electromagnetic field of another laser. The team's approach, which is a breakthrough in precision and control at the single-cell level, was published today in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express
"What is magical is that all this happens for one cell," said Yong-Gu Lee, an associate professor in the School of Mechatronics at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea and one of the researchers who carried out the study. "Until today, gene transfection has been performed on a large quantity of agglomerate cells and the outcome has been observed as a statistical average and no observations have been made on individual cells."