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Single Cell Optical Transfection

David J. Stevenson, Frank J. Gunn-Moore, Paul Campbell, Kishan Dholakia

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The plasma membrane of a eukaryotic cell is impermeable to most hydrophilic substances, yet the insertion of these materials into cells is an extremely important and universal requirement for the cell biologist. To address this need, many transfection techniques have been developed including viral, lipoplex, polyplex, capillary microinjection, gene gun and electroporation. The current discussion explores a procedure called optical injection, where a laser field transiently increases the membrane permeability to allow species to be internalized. If the internalized substance is a nucleic acid, such as DNA, RNA or small interfering RNA (siRNA), then the process is called optical transfection. This contactless, aseptic, single cell transfection method provides a key nanosurgical tool to the microscopist—the intracellular delivery of reagents and single nanoscopic objects. The experimental possibilities enabled by this technology are only beginning to be realized. A review of optical transfection is presented, along with a forecast of future applications of this rapidly developing and exciting technology.