Let us go back in time to around 1975. It is my understanding that at that point (or at least by the end of the decade), both genomic and cDNA libraries had been created for a few organisms, e.g. rabbits. I'm interested in the logic of techniques that first used these libraries to isolate genes encoding for particular proteins. Note: I'm not interested in how we'd isolate a gene today; I want to understand the history.
First, consider the following thought experiment. Say it's around 1975. The one assignment for my Cal Tech biology class is a doozy: it goes as follows. The instructor (Tom Maniastis?) hands me a protein along with the cells from which the protein was isolated as well as genomic and cDNA libraries of the organism that makes the protein; the challenge is to isolate the gene encoding for the protein. I do not know anything about the protein except that the product I've been given is pure.
Of course, the basic idea is simple: isolate the gene by screening the libraries with a radioactive nucleic acid probe and using a hybridization assay. But alas, I do not have a complementary probe: all I have is the protein! What do I do?
Here is one solution I can imagine. (I don't know whether it was possible around 1975, much less whether it actually happened.) I could try to isolate the mRNA that codes for my protein (but how to do that?), then radiolabel it and use the radiolabelled mRNA as a probe in a hybridization assay on the cDNA library (not the genomic library, since the unprocessed DNA could have noncoding regions).
- Would this have worked?
- Did anyone actually do this?
- If yes to either (1) or (2), how could one figure out which mRNA coded for the protein?
The question, in essence, is how to get to DNA, given only a protein, circa 1975.