Fluorescently labelling gene mutations to visualise the growth of abnormal cell clones
Your gut churns and digests every day, which is why it needs to regenerate its lining every week. This is made possible by intestinal stem cells that live in crypts in the gut lining. However, if one of these cells develops a mutation that makes it more likely to become cancerous, it can divide to populate an entire region with pro-cancer cells, greatly increasing the risk of cancer. Researchers now use genetic engineering to fluorescently tag pro-cancer mutations in mouse intestinal stem cells to track their descendants. They found cells with mutations in a gene called Rspondin-3 rapidly expanded in adult gut linings, while those with mutations in another gene beta-catenin did not. In Rspondin-3 mutants, crypt cells divided more producing abnormally large intestines, as captured using fluorescent microscopy (pictured, right), when compared to beta-catenin mutants (left). This so-called 'Crainbow' model provides insights into the development of pro-cancer gut tissue.
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