In 1958, five years after he helped discover the double helix structure of DNA, Francis Crick coined the term "Central Dogma" to characterize the all-important cellular processes whereby DNA is "transcribed" into RNA and RNA is "translated" into protein. Since then, researchers have typically examined individual aspects of the Central Dogma in isolation, by developing separate systems for studying transcription or translation. Now, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have developed the first system for viewing how the Central Dogma unfolds in its entirety, from DNA to RNA to protein, within living cells. The study appears in the March 5 issue of the journal Cell.
The researchers, led by Dr. David Spector, developed a multi-component, fluorescence microscopy imaging system in which the DNA near an inducible gene can be visualized, the messenger RNA (mRNA) encoded by the gene is labeled yellow, and the protein encoded by the mRNA is labeled blue. In short, the system’s DNA, RNA, and proteins are labeled so that they glow different colors and can be seen with a microscope. The scientists then captured time-lapse images as the inducible gene was switched on (view movie below): First, the gene's tightly coiled DNA adopted a more relaxed, open shape. Next, RNA could be seen accumulating and being spliced in the nucleus and exported to the cytoplasm. Finally, the proteins appeared