Margy Lambert, a molecular biologist and biological safety expert, has described the gene delivery potential of transposons, also known as "jumping genes", in an article published in the journal Applied Biosafey.
The researcher says that scientists and gene therapists have to date used two proven options to move a gene from one point to another, according to the background information in the article. One of these methods involves a virus, while the other a plasmid, an engineered loop of DNA that usually delivers the genes on a short-term basis, the article adds.
Viruses can be infectious and some types of viruses occasionally land in a target genome near an oncogene and raise the risk of cancer. Plasmids, on the other hand, do not carry that risk, but they are not nearly as efficient at reproducing in cells, which is important for integrating an introduced gene into the targeted cells of the organism or patient.
Lambert says that "jumping genes" can provide a safer alternative than viruses and more efficient delivery than plasmids.
"Almost any application where you use viral vectors, you could use this technique. You can do a lot with it, and it is safer. Problems with viral vectors are extremely rare, but the consequences can be severe," says Lambert.
The researcher says that jumping gene technology has been found to be more effective than simple plasmids at achieving stable expression of genes introduced into animal cells.
Lambert revealed that in order to harness jumping genes, researchers use an enzyme to ferry a desired DNA sequence from one DNA molecule to another inside a cell. The enzyme can then be turned off to stop genes from jumping, says the expert.
Although Lambert admits that there are both technical and safety issues to be worked out in the development of transposon vectors before they could be tried in human therapy, the researcher insists that the use of such new vectors "offers a great opportunity to maximize the advantages and minimize the drawbacks of existing delivery systems."