Researchers have created a molecular switch that can reversibly turn any mammalian gene on or off and control its level of expression. The results, published this week in Cell, provide a new level of precision in studying genes involved in biological processes and diseases, the authors say.The authors "promised a lot," with this research, said Perry Hackett of the University of Minnesota, who was not connected with the research. "And they lived up to their promise."Scientists have traditionally used three technologies to control gene expression, but all have limitations, explained James J. Collins of Boston University, who led the study. Genetic techniques to create "knockouts" are irreversible, making it difficult to study the function of genes at different points in development. Approaches that use small molecules such as tetracycline don't completely block expression of the target protein. RNA interference (RNAi), in which small RNAs block the function of...

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