What are transposons?
Definition: Transposons, also known as "jumping genes", are segments of chromosome that can be transposed to a new location within the DNA of a host cell.
Transposable elements were first identified by geneticist Barbara McClintock through her studies of maize in the 1940s. After years of speculation about the role of these elements in the genome, McClintock was one of the first to realise these elements are not “junk DNA” and might play a role in regulating gene expression. Although her findings were initially questioned by the scientific community, she was later awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 in recognition of this discovery.
Several transposable elements, like PiggyBac and Sleeping Beauty, have been adapted for use in the laboratory as a method of gene manipulation. These transposon systems have been used for genetic screening, leading to the identification of new gene functions. Nowadays, transposon systems are also being used as a non-viral system for gene therapy. No acute or late toxicity results from phase I clinical trials using Sleeping Beauty to generate genetically-modified T-cells for immune therapy were recently reported, showcasing the potential of using transposons as of non-viral therapeutic tools.
In striking difference from common transposons that have a "cut-and-paste" mechanism, the Helitron transposon system, exclusively owned by Horizon Discovery, is able to move genetic elements flanked by transposable elements presents in a "copy-and-paste". This feature renders the Helitron transposon a fantastic tool that could be harvest for therapeutic gene delivery.