A powerful screening strategy devised by RIKEN researchers will make it easier for scientists to assign likely biological functions to different molecules, facilitating the development of safe and effective drugs (Nature Chemical Biology, “Functional annotation of chemical libraries across diverse biological processes”).

The scientific community is sitting atop vast mountains of genetic data as well as enormous collections of chemicals that might serve as the foundation for potential drugs. But it is notoriously difficult to figure out which genetic pathways these chemicals affect.

The new technique promises to facilitate finding these connections. It is based on two strategies developed in the 1990s, the first of which was led by Stanford University biologist Ronald Davis, who built a vast collection of yeast strains that carried different gene deletions.

“Davis wisely included a specific ‘DNA barcode’ in the genome of each strain,” says Charles Boone of the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science. “This means we can pool hundreds of mutants in a single test tube and follow their growth by simply monitoring the abundance of their barcodes.”

Image Credit:  Dr. Stanley Flegler, Visuals Unlimited/Science Photo Library

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