Waking Sleeping Beauty
Waking Sleeping Beauty is an evolutionary tale about jumping genes in our genome
Waking Sleeping Beauty

Waking Sleeping Beauty is an evolutionary tale about a little fish with jumping genes. Let me introduce these wacky characters that play a role in all of our genome stories.

The rascals are chunks of DNA in a genome that can jump from one position to another. Scientists prefer the term “transposon,” I call them rascals because when they jump, they change the genetic sequence, which can cause mutations.

Transposons make up about half of the human genome. Are we in trouble? No! Their mobile behavior is long gone. Evolution put pressure on them, over millions of years, to stop jumping. They sit quietly in our genomes today, remaining inactive, silent, and asleep.

Scientists are fascinated by Nature’s biological mechanisms. A transposon’s mobile ability is especially intriguing. Some wondered, what if we could “wake up” a transposon and tame it? Could we use its mobile behavior as a tool for gene discovery?

Imagine you want to introduce new genes into a genome. It’s a challenging endeavor. It’s tricky because DNA is nano-small and scrunched into the nucleus of our cells. Somehow, the gene has to go through the cell membrane, into the nucleus, and insert itself amongst the billions of base pairs. Could they design a system that does all that?

Imagine you want to introduce new genes into a genome. It’s a challenging endeavor. It’s tricky because DNA is nano-small and scrunched into the nucleus of our cells. Somehow, the gene has to go through the cell membrane, into the nucleus, and insert itself amongst the billions of base pairs. Could they design a system that does all that?

It’s what genome engineers have been working on for decades — genetic tools for basic and translational research. CRISPR is one of the latest; the Sleeping Beauty Transposon System was one of the earliest. 

The 4-minute video, “Waking Sleeping Beauty” (below), is about the intrepid scientists at the University of Minnesota who developed the transposon system. The research they began in 1997 in the Hackett Lab has led to real-world applications. 

The video shows a glimpse of the many-year process of scientific inquiry. From waking an ancient transposon to reconstructing it as an innovative, life-saving genetic tool — the Sleeping Beauty Transposon System demonstrates the value of basic research for a healthy planet and living beings.

Menu