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On the Horizon

Leading news, knowledge, and industry trends in genetic research

Essential genes are defined as genes that are critical for the survival of an organism. These are considered to be genes that are absolutely required for the cell to grown, proliferate and survive. Deletion of an essential gene from a cell eventually leads to the death of this cell or a severe proliferation defect. As a consequence, it is impossible to generate cells with a knock-out or deletion of essential genes.

A revolution is under way in functional genomics which is spearheaded by the CRISPR-Cas9 system and its application to pooled genetic screening. Remarkable new tools, made possible by dCas9, are coming to fruition that will allow for a new kind of interrogation of gene function, allowing us to ask more sophisticated questions about the biology of drug targets.

Cancer fusion genes are hybrid genes that produce abnormal proteins believed to catalyze further cancer growth and increase invasiveness. Here we highlight novel research using CRISPR gene editing to specifically target cancer fusion genes, which could offer many potential therapeutic applications.

The cellular DNA damage response (DDR) is an essential safeguard against cancer. Upon activation, the DDR can limit tumor progression at the early stages by inducing senescence or cell death. When this defense fails tumors are able to develop. However, with time, tumors accumulate more mutations in DNA repair proteins as cancers progress. The efficiency of DDR plays an essential role in the effectivity of cytotoxic treatments. Currently much research is focused on identifying the DDR mechanisms involved in cancers and how these dysfunctional processes can be utilized against tumor growth.

One of the highest ideals in science is to observe natural events in their native context. Doing so is a constant challenge thanks to the Observer Effect, described by Heisenberg and others, where the act of observing or measuring a process alters it. Thus, scientists of all stripes try to get out of the way, attempting to produce the most accurate measurements possible using specific yet unobtrusive tools. Wildlife photographers use long-range lenses to avoid the need to stand directly in front of a herd of water buffalo and thereby affect the animals behavior. Psychologists create tests where the subjects are unaware of the true intent so as to minimize changes in natural responses.