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Hopkins joins gene cloning project to advance medicine development

Scientists at Johns Hopkins, Rutgers and Harvard universities, as well as the University of Trento in Italy, have created a new technique that allows thousands of genes in a DNA sequence to be cloned at once.

Researchers hope the advance in gene cloning will allow them to more quickly identify markers for diseases and discover new medicines.

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Until now genes had to be cloned individually in a time-consuming process. The new molecular method allows thousands of the long DNA strands that make up genes to be isolated and cloned at the same time.

The discovery was published June 26 in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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"Our goal is to make it cheap and easy for any researcher in any field to clone and express the entire set of proteins from any organism," said Ben Larman, an assistant professor of pathology in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the study's co-senior author, in a statement. "Until now, such a prospect was only realistic for high-powered research consortia studying model organisms like fruit flies or mice."

The scientists call their technique for capturing DNA strands that make up genes the LASSO method, for long adapter single-stranded oligonucleotid. They also liken it to capturing cattle with a rope.

The new process speeds up the genes' creation of proteins, which manage cell activity, compared to the old process of cloning individual genes.

To test the method, the scientists sought to capture more than 3,000 DNA strands from the E. coli bacterial genome, commonly used as a model organism, and were successful with most of the targets. They also were able to use the strands to analyze what the gene's proteins do.

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"We're very excited about all the potential applications for LASSO cloning," Larman said. "Our hope is that by greatly expanding the number of proteins that can be expressed and screened in parallel, the road to interesting biology and new therapeutic biomolecules will be dramatically shortened for many researchers."

The next step, already underway, is improving the cloning process and building libraries of proteins from DNA samples for use in research, said Biju Parekkadan, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Funding for the research came from the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Larman, Parekkadan and a Harvard scientist on the project have sought a patent for the method, which is pending.

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