Willimantic, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University concluded its guest lecture series with the Jackson Laboratory (JAX) on Sept. 23 with a lecture by Albert Cheng titled “Engineering an Operating System for the Genome.” Cheng is a faculty member at the JAX facility in Farmington and an expert in genome editing technology.
“The more we know about biology, the more we can engineer it,” said Cheng, who focused his lecture on a powerful research tool his lab has been developing. Known as “Casilio,” the tool expands on the genome editing technology “CRISPR/Cas9” by enabling more, simultaneous functionality. More specifically, Casilio enables the simultaneous alteration of expression for several genes, rather than only a single gene.
By “genome,” Cheng means the complete set of an organism’s DNA. By “editing,” he means the ability to alter gene expression by turning it either on or off.
Whereas CRISPR/Cas9 is “like an early tablet with only one app, like a basic word processor, Casilio is like a modern tablet with many apps that can run at the same time,” explained Cheng.
“For example, you can simultaneously increase the expression of one gene while suppressing another, while labeling another one with fluorescent protein. It increases the power of the system for research by a lot.”
This has major implications for common difficult-to-cure diseases, like cancer and diabetes, which involve many different genes rather than just a single gene. “So when working with gene networks, it can be hugely valuable to manipulate multiple genes within a network or pathway at the same time.”
The development of gene-editing technology like Casilio is yet another effort of JAX in its pursuit of “precision medicine” — medicine tailored to a person’s individual genome.
Eastern began the lecture series with the Jackson Laboratory last year to expose students to the growing field of genomics and biochemical engineering. The partnership started under the Connecticut Health and Life Sciences Career Initiative (HL-SCI) in 2013-15, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to prepare workers for Connecticut’s growing health and life sciences sector.
To read about JAX’s first two lectures at Eastern, see George Weinstock Discusses the Human Microbiome and World Class Scientist Plays Piano in Unique Lecture.