Scientists observe single gene transcription in living cells

April 22, 2011

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have for the first time observed the activity of a single gene in living cells.

Einstein scientists were able to follow, in real time, the process of gene transcription, which occurs when a gene converts its DNA information into molecules of messenger RNA (mRNA) that go on to make the protein coded by the gene.

Gene transcription is a key step in synthesizing proteins, which govern the body’s structure and function and underlie many diseases when present in mutated form or in aberrant amounts.

The view of transcription in yeast that emerges from this study is that its initiation seems to be a random event that depends on the success of transcription factors searching through the yeast nucleus looking for a particular gene’s promoter region,” said Robert Singer, Ph.D., co-director of the Gruss Lipper Biophotonics Center at Einstein and professor and co-chair of anatomy and structural biology. “By contrast, once initiation occurs, RNA polymerase recruits individual nucleotides for the growing mRNA molecule in an efficient and predictable manner.”

Understanding how gene expression is regulated in a single-celled organism such as yeast is a first step in understanding the same processes in humans, which have a vastly larger and more complex genome.

Ref.: Robert Singer et al., “Real time observation of transcription initiation and elongation on an endogenous gene,” Science (online edition), April 21, 2011