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What is the difference between transfection and transduction?

A Tale of Two Ts: Transfection and Transduction

Arguing over semantics – a tale as old as time.

Here at Mirus, our focus is transfection, but I’d wager a guess that most of our readers have heard of transduction too. But what exactly do these words mean? Both ‘transfection’ and ‘transduction’ were coined during the infancy of molecular biology, so it may not surprise you that their exact meaning has evolved over time and is still hotly contested by scientists today.1,2 At Mirus Bio, all can agree that both terms refer to the delivery of genetic material to cells, and most of us can agree on the definitions below.
 
  • Transfection: the transfer of nucleic acid without using a virus. Transfection uses chemical as well as non-chemical methods like electroporation and microinjection to deliver genetic material into cells.
  • Transduction: the transfer of nucleic acid with the use of a viral vector. The virus infects the cells and releases the genetic material.

 

However, be forewarned that these definitions are not universally adopted and may draw many a virologist or microbiologist into a heated debate. Please leave a comment (techsupport@mirusbio.com) to continue the discussion!

 

Considerations for Using Transfection versus Transduction

Both transfection and transduction are employed with the same end goal in mind: delivery of genetic material to cells. In fact, to produce recombinant viral vectors for use in transduction, transfection is often the first step. See below for some considerations which may dictate suitability of each method depending on application:

  • Biosafety Level (BSL): BSL is an important consideration during planning of a study or when determining the capabilities of a facility. Working with viruses can require an increase in BSL due to their inherent infectivity, and some plasmids contain elements considered high risk. Be sure to take BSL into account when planning a transfection or transduction experiment.
  • Target Cell Type: Transfection via electroporation or with chemical transfection reagents is quick and easy. However, some cell types are inherently refractory to transfection. In these cases, employing a virus to transduce the cells can be a work-around for delivery of genetic material.
  • Use In Vivo: Transfection reagents typically work to deliver nucleic acid to any cell that encounters a transfection complex. On the other hand, many viruses are inherently capable of or can be pseudotyped for cell-type-specific infection. For experiments where a specific tissue or cell type is the target or in the case of a gene or cell therapy for a specific disease, use of a virus to transduce the target cells can be a more tailored approach.
  • Stable Transgene Expression: Transduction with some viruses, like AAV, can lead to durable transgene expression in non-dividing cells. Lentiviruses can efficiently integrate genetic material into the genome of a transduced cell, which can be a timely way to generate stable cell lines. Transfection can also be used to generate stable cell lines. A common approach is to transfect a plasmid with a selectable marker or to transfect CRISPR/Cas-gRNA complexes.

Planning a transfection or transduction experiment? Check out Reagent Agent® to find the reagent tailored to your experimental goals. Or, get in touch with us. Mirus Bio Tech Support is a simple chat, call or email away!

Phone: 888.530.0801
Email: techsupport@mirusbio.com

References

  1. Földes, J. and Trautner, T. A., Zeitschrift für Vererbungslehre (1964).
    DOI: 10.1007/BF00898184
  2. Zinder, N. D. and Lederberg, J., Journal of Bacteriology (1952).
    DOI: 10.1128/jb.64.5.679-699.1952

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Feedback or questions? We’d love to hear from you. Email techsupport@mirusbio.com or call us at 888.530.0801.