Biolistics is a technique that physically fires DNA into cells with a particle gun. Cells are bombarded with tiny DNA-coated metal microprojectiles through the use of a pressurized chamber orgunpowder. Sound a bit too much like science fiction? This seemingly far-fetched technique is in fact one that is employed in laboratories worldwide for a variety of purposes.
Aiming for the bullseye
Microprojectile bombardment is used for many genetic analyses. Physically introducing genetic DNA into cells means you can study how your gene missile is expressed i.e. does the gene construct function? So far, this is the only technique that has been used successfully in putting genes into circular DNA molecules (plastids) and mitochondria. It is also used to generate cell lines or organisms that are permanently stable in the presence of injected DNA and is the preferred choice for “transforming” C. elegans i.e. putting DNA into worms.
Not a fan of needles?
Needle phobia is something that afflicts a significant proportion of the population. A gene gun can also be used for the delivery of vaccines as a pain free alternative to injection. PowderJect is a project that uses the methodologies of biolistics for genetic immunization by impelling genes for antigens into an animal’s skin. This needle-free technique uses a supersonic shock wave of helium gas to inject the particle-formulated drugs into any physically accessible tissue. This principle can be applied to deliver any drug or vaccine that can be formulated as a solid particle, which has far-reaching applications in the world of drug delivery.
Shooting into the distance
Biolistics has significance in many areas of biotechnology. Despite sounding somewhat wacky, this method of introducing DNA into cells is incredibly important; from studying gene function to genetically modifying crops, the gene gun is where fiction meets real and useful science. With the on-going research, biolistics is going to become both a commonplace technique in the laboratory and the clinic.