New gene-engineering technique will help scientists study the immune system
B cells, a type of white blood cell, produce antibodies that help the body combat dangerous pathogens. One way to study their activation involves generating mice whose B cells carry specific B-cell receptors (BCRs), molecules that play a critical role in the immune system’s defense tactics.
This feat of engineering typically involves inserting a BCR gene into the mouse’s genome at a random location. While useful in some contexts, the method has significant drawbacks, including the fact that it doesn’t render a complete picture of B cell function.
Rockefeller scientist Gabriel D. Victora knew that BCRs don’t work quite right when they’re imprecisely plopped into a mouse’s genome, and he suspected they would behave more naturally if he could control in what spot they were placed. And, thanks to advances in CRISPR, a technology to modify DNA, his lab was able to do just that. The mice generated with this novel approach were capable of more advanced immune responses than those made with the old method.
Both convenient and effective, this technique should prove useful to immunologists, and to researchers investigating new antibody treatments for HIV and other serious illnesses.