A flashy technique for cell biology
One of the most intriguing techniques in current biological research is optogenetics, in which light-sensitive proteins derived from a variety of organisms, including plants, are introduced into cells, allowing scientists to rapidly and precisely control activity within these cells with flashes of light.
In the July 30 online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Pietro De Camilli, M.D., the Eugene Higgins Professor of Cell Biology, and colleagues describe optogenetically engineered mammalian cells in which levels of phosphoinositides, lipid components of cell membranes that regulate crucial functions, can be instantly and reversibly controlled with bursts of blue light.
“This is a powerful tool to acutely manipulate the metabolism of membrane lipids and to study the resulting changes of cell behavior in real time,” says De Camilli, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “Abnormal metabolism of lipids in cell membranes has been implicated in many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and neurodegeneration, including Alzheimer’s Disease.”