Scientists at Harvard and the University of Washington in Seattle have created a method for amplifying RNA copied from genes within single cells, called SABER (signal amplification by exchange reaction). The new technology promises to detect the RNA output of multiple genes in the same cells with increased sensitivity and speed, and at lower cost.
The research team developed SABER as a way to make mRNA molecules, the genetic messengers in the cell, shine more brightly in a microscope image when labeled by a method called FISH. Standing for fluorescence in situ hybridization, FISH tags mRNA from a specific gene of interest with a lab-made nucleic acid molecule labeled with a fluorescent marker. This in turn lights up the mRNA’s position in the cell. Using SABER, the scientists were able to make FISH signals five to 450 times brighter, detecting mRNAs with much higher efficiency and allowing an automatable “workflow” that could speed study of how gene activity causes differences in cell behavior in health and disease.
This work was funded by award number 1UG3HL145600 through the NIH Common Fund HuBMAP initiative. The team’s June 2019 Nature Methods paper can be read here.