The Project

Transcribing the processes of life: Visual Genetics

VISGEN is a multidisciplinary and intersectoral initiative amongst a consortium of partners across Europe and Asia focusing on the visualisation of nuclear processes in an intact brain in real-time. Through research and knowledge transfer in the academic and commercial community, the project aims to develop and disseminate technologies to pinpoint gene transcription in living cells. Although primarily focusing on nuclear processes in neurons, the research behind the technology will be relevant in the context of any living cells and the findings will be of exceptional interest to the broader scientific community.

The Visualisation of Transcription in Living Systems

Transcription is necessary for the consolidation of enduring changes in synaptic function in learning, memory and other neural functions. However, the causes and consequences of changes in gene expression associated with neural activity and neural function remain a black box. While great strides have been made in the visualization of neural function in situ and in vivo, linking these activities to transcriptional events in real-time and in situ has thus far proved elusive. To this end, the project aims to develop an in vivo method that is able to identify the element of neuronal microcircuits with their respective cell types while allowing parallel functional measurements. This will be achieved using Stimulated Raman Spectroscopy and an ultra-small nanotagging manifold, no larger than two-atoms in size, to investigate nuclear mechanisms and to differentiate cell types by means of minimally invasive techniques. In addition to new diagnostic methods and an enhanced understanding of brain functions, the development of the Stimulated Raman Spectroscopy technique will provide additional opportunities for cutting-edge research in molecular biology, medicine, chemistry or materials science.

Scientific Impact

The findings of the project will have a significant impact in the understanding of the functional mechanism of the brain linking single gene function through neuronal network analysis to behaviour. Once developed, these findings will be available for other medical-based research and development projects focusing on early stage disease diagnosis, cancer detection and toxicity studies. Real-time visual genetics will transform our understanding of the brain and herald transformative changes in the field of neuroscience and in general life science.