DISRUPTIVE #7: FISSEQ – Fluorescent In Situ RNA Sequencing
Hello, I’m Terrence McNally and you’re listening to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
One of today’s guests, George Church, has made the point that as medicine moves from very blunt instruments – where you had to open up a chest all the way, for example, or had to use molecules that would hit almost every part of your body – now molecules can find one base pair out of six billion and change it – He says we need observational tools that can deal with that high level of resolution and comprehensiveness.
And we’re going to talk about one such tool. Fluorescent in situ RNA sequencing – F-I-S-S-E-Q – or FISSEQ.
Working copies of active genes — called messenger RNAs or mRNAs — are strategically positioned throughout living tissues, and their location often helps regulate how cells and tissues grow and develop. Until recently, to analyze many mRNAs simultaneously, scientists had to grind cells to a pulp, which left them unable to pinpoint where those mRNAs actually sat within the cell.
Now a team at the Wyss Institute and Harvard Medical School has developed a new method that allows scientists to pinpoint thousands of mRNAs and other types of RNAs at once – in intact cells.
FISSEQ could lead to earlier cancer diagnosis, help biologists better understand embryonic development, and even help map the neurons of the brain.
I’ll talk with George Church, Wyss Core Faculty member and co-founder of ReadCoor, the startup that will bring FISSEQ to market; Wyss lead senior scientist, Rich Terry, President, Co-Founder, and CTO of ReadCoor; and Shawn Marcell, Wyss Entrepreneur-in-Residence and founding Chairman/CEO of ReadCoor.
The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.
Our bodies — and all living systems — accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than any entity yet designed by humans.
By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing. [02:06]
George Church is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT. He’s Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Center on Bioenergy at Harvard and MIT and director of the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science at Harvard. He has co-founded a number of companies, including ReadCoor.
Church earned a bachelor’s degree from Duke University in two years and a PhD from Harvard. Honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He has coauthored hundreds of scientific papers, more than sixty patents, and the book, “Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.” [02:41]
To set the context for this episode, George Church offers an overview of the evolution of sequencing technology –
Church: It dates back at least to the ’60s when RNA sequencing and protein sequencing were the main ways of getting insight. In the mid-’70s, ways to do DNA sequencing based on electrophoresis came into play. Those were automated and made less radioactive, more fluorescent. In the ’80s and ’90s, it switched from slab electrophoresis, capillary electrophoresis. None of these scaled particularly well.