Step one in any project involving genetic modification is to get the genes you want into the cells you want changed. Traditionally, this meant shooting microscopic DNA-coated bullets at the cells and hoping the DNA got inside without blowing the cells to smithereens. It sounds messy, and it is. Now, researchers in South Korea have devised a super-precise method for inserting DNA into cells, and it's powered by lasers.
Using a brief pulse from a femtosecond laser, researchers are able to punch a tiny hole in the membrane of an individual cell. The foreign DNA is maneuvered through the hole and into place inside the cell using a laser-powered tractor beam, or "optical tweezers," that can move microscopic particles using light. While prior DNA insertion processes relied on throwing lots of DNA at lots of cells and hoping some of it would get to the right spot, this is the first time scientists can guide DNA into an individual cell.