New technique scours the genome for genes that combat disease

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Once the researchers identified these genes in yeast, they tested the human equivalents in human neurons, grown in a lab dish, that also overproduce alpha synuclein. These human genes were also protective against alpha-synuclein-induced death, suggesting that they could be worth testing as gene therapy treatments for Parkinson’s disease, Lu says.

Wilson Wong, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, says the study highlights the diverse applications for which CRISPR/Cas9 can be used.

“It is also interesting to see that they could use yeast as the starting point of a genetic screen and identify guide RNAs that are protective to alpha-synuclein toxicity in mammalian cells,” says Wong, who was not involved in the research. “This work could pave the way for using randomized guide RNAs and yeast to interrogate complex human biology.”

Lu’s lab is now using this approach to screen for genes related to other disorders, and the researchers have already identified some genes that appear to protect against certain effects of aging.

The research was funded by the Ellison Medical Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

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