Researchers from Stanford University described a streamlined method for creating a " genetic mosaic mouse ", a rodent whose body is genetically engineered to produce small clusters of cells with mutated genes.
The new technique, called Mosaic Analysis with Double Markers ( MADM ), was developed in the laboratory of Liqun Luo.
Mosaics are designed to give researchers an opportunity to observe what happens when a specific gene is removed from a small cluster of cells in a living animal. With MADM, cells carrying an altered gene of interest turn green for easier observation.
" We use a green fluorescent protein, " Luo says. " So now if you mutate a gene, you'll know in which cell the normal gene is lost. For example, if you delete a tumor suppressor gene, the green cells will proliferate, and you can actually study the tumor's progression. If you can image these cells in a live animal, you can potentially watch the tumor grow. "
Luo points out that MADM is more precise than the widely used " knockout mouse " technique, in which a gene of interest is removed ( "knocked out" ) of every cell in the animal's body.
The knockout method can have unwanted, deleterious consequences for the mouse and the experiment, Luo adds, whereas MADM acts more like a scalpel, creating a handful of mutant cells in an otherwise normal animal.
Geneticists have been using mosaic fruit flies for decades.
In the early 1990s, scientists developed a more efficient technique that allows researchers to control when and where mutant cells are generated in the fly's body.
However, scientists have had a much more difficult time designing mosaic vertebrates, such as mice. The mouse has long been considered an ideal laboratory model for studying human development and disease, primarily because mouse DNA and human DNA are remarkably alike.
The MADM technique works on the same principal as the method currently used to create mosaic fruit flies.
The researchers begin with two embryonic stem cells whose chromosomes have been engineered to carry two inactivated segments of a green fluorescent protein molecule.
Mice derived from these embryonic stem cells are mated to each other. As their offspring grow, the cells in their body begin to divide.
Before cell division is complete, a special enzyme causes the exchange, or recombination, of the two engineered chromosomes. If one of those chromosomes contains a bad copy ( mutation ) of a gene, the recombination event could cause an offspring to inherit two bad copies of the gene, which would result in a mutant cell.
This process simultaneously activates the green fluorescent protein, which turns the mutant cell green.
Source: Stanford University, 2005