The differences, or mutations, in question create minor changes in amino acids -- the building blocks of DNA -- from person to person. Zebrafish can be used as a model to understand what biological effects result from these genetic mutations.
Personalized medicine uses modern technology and tools to find biological and genetic differences in individuals so that treatment is more effectively delivered.
"A major challenge of personalized medicine is the lack of a standard way to define the importance of each of the many unique mutations found in an individual's genetic code," said Keith Cheng, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology and lead researcher. "Approaches are particularly needed to experimentally determine what differences these mutations make. It is difficult to distinguish the effects of a single amino acid change caused by those changes in our DNA."
The zebrafish is a good choice because of its similarity to humans as a vertebrate, its transparency as an embryo and the powerful genetic tools available in this model organism.
The Cheng lab's approach is like testing small damages in car parts, one at a time. For example, a "mutant" car headlight is known not to work when a certain connector is missing. Taking a normally functioning connector out of a working headlight and replacing it with a connector damaged in a specific way -- a cracked wire casing or a corroded wire connector, for example -- can show whether the damage matters. If the light works, then that mutation makes no difference on the function of the headlight. If the light does not work, the mutation has an effect.
Postdoctoral fellow Zurab Tsetskhladze, who performed the zebrafish experiments, tested this method with two genes that affect skin color. He started with an equivalent of the broken car part: mutant zebrafish with lighter pigment cells. First, Tsetskhladze confirmed that by injecting normal messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) into the mutant zebrafish, the lighter pigment cells become "cured" -- or darker --like those of a normal zebrafish. Messenger RNA makes the cells produce the protein the scientists want to study.
Tsetskhladze was then able to test RNA with only one "human" mutation to see if cure was still possible. Cure suggests that the mutation does not matter. If cure is prevented by the mutation, the conclusion is that the protein's function is affected by the amino acid difference being tested.
Cheng's lab works with zebrafish to study genetic differences that contribute to human skin color. Scientists want to determine the role these differences play in the development of skin cancer, and to find ways to better protect people from cancer.
In the current study, two of the amino acid differences that Cheng has shown in prior studies to contribute to light skin color in humans prevented the zebrafish color from darkening. A third amino acid difference that is common in Eastern Asians was of unknown effect. The researchers found that the change made no difference in function in zebrafish. This finding matched the findings of K.C. Ang, postdoctoral fellow, who found no effect of the tested change on the skin color of East Asians.
To see if this approach might be used in other ways, Stephen Wentzel, graduate student, Penn State College of Medicine, looked at mutations in the four genes known to contribute to albinism, which lightens the color of skin, eyes and hair, and is associated with any one of more than 250 known single amino acid differences. He found that at least 210 of these are theoretically testable in the zebrafish. This new test may help scientists to determine which mutations can be ignored and which may need action – such as a change in life habit.
"This approach may potentially be extended to other biological functions and may therefore be useful in personalized medicine," Cheng said.
The researchers published their findings in PLoS ONE.
Other researchers are Khai C. Ang, Steven M. Wentzel and Katherine P. Reid, all of Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation, Division of Experimental Pathology, Penn State College of Medicine; Victor A. Canfield, Department of Pharmacology, Penn State College of Medicine; Arthur S. Berg, Department of Public Health Sciences, and Stephen L. Johnson, Department of Genetics, Washington University Medical School; and Koichi Kawakami, Division of Molecular and Developmental Biology, National Institute of Genetics, Japan.
This work was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Matthew Solovey | EurekAlert!
Clock stars: Astrocytes keep time for brain, behavior
27.03.2017 | Washington University in St. Louis
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
27.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences