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Shedding light on gene regulation

Researchers have exploited a photoreceptor phytochrome from plants to create a gene expression system that can be induced by red light.

Jonathan Weitzman(jonathanweitzman@hotmail.com)

Experimental systems in which gene expression can be carefully regulated are powerful tools for investigating gene function. In an Advanced Online Publication in Nature Biotechnology, Shimizu-Sato and colleagues describe an ingenious gene expresion system that exploits a light-sensitive protein from plants.

The system is binary, like the classical yeast two-hybrid system, and is based on the light-induced interaction between two fusion proteins. One is a fusion between the plant phyB phytochrome and the DNA binding domain of yeast GAL4, while the other contains the plant PIF3 basic helix-loop-helix protein fused to the GAL4 activation domain. A controlled transgene can be "turned on" by red light, and "turned off" again by far-red light. The findings demonstrate that their system works well in yeast, and they predict that it could be used in any light-accessible eukaryotic cell to offer a non-invasive, inexpensive and non-toxic gene induction system.

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