Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

What makes us unique? Not only our genes

18.03.2010
What counts is how genes are regulated, say scientists at EMBL and Yale

Once the human genome was sequenced in 2001, the hunt was on for the genes that make each of us unique. But scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, and Yale and Stanford Universities in the USA, have found that we differ from each other mainly because of differences not in our genes, but in how they’re regulated – turned on or off, for instance.

In a study published today in Science, they are the first to compare entire human genomes and determine which changes in the stretches of DNA that lie between genes make gene regulation vary from one person to the next. Their findings hail a new way of thinking about ourselves and our diseases.

The technological advances of the past decade have been so great that scientists can now obtain the genetic sequences – or genomes – of several people in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost it took to determine that first human genome. Moreover, these advances now enable researchers to understand how genes are regulated in humans.

A group of scientists led by Jan Korbel at EMBL and Michael Snyder initially at Yale and now in Stanford were the first to compare individually sequenced human genomes to look for what caused differences in gene regulation amongst ten different people. They focused on non-coding regions – stretches of DNA that lie between genes and, unlike genes, don’t hold the instructions for producing proteins. These DNA sequences, which may vary from person to person, can act as anchors to which regulatory proteins, known as transcription factors, attach themselves to switch genes on or off.

Korbel, Snyder, and colleagues found that up to a quarter of all human genes are regulated differently in different people, more than there are genetic variations in genes themselves. The scientists found that many of these differences in how regulatory proteins act are due to changes in the DNA sequences they bind to. In some cases, such changes can be a difference in a single letter of the genetic code, while in others a large section of DNA may be altered. But surprisingly, they discovered even more variations could not be so easily explained. They reasoned that some of these seemingly inexplicable differences might arise if regulatory proteins didn’t act alone, but interacted with each other.

“We developed a new approach which enabled us to identify cases where a protein’s ability to turn a gene on or off can be affected by interactions with another protein anchored to a nearby area of the genome,” Korbel explains. “With it, we can begin to understand where such interactions happen, without having to study every single regulatory protein out there.”

The scientists found that even if different people have identical copies of a gene – for instance ORMDL3, a gene known to be involved in asthma in children – the way their cells regulate that gene can vary from person to person.

“Our findings may help change the way we think of ourselves, and of diseases”, Snyder concludes: “as well as looking for disease genes, we could start looking at how genes are regulated, and how individual variations in gene regulation could affect patients’ reactions.”

Finally, Korbel, Snyder and colleagues compared the information on humans with that from a chimpanzee, and found that with respect to gene regulation there seems to be almost as much variation between humans as between us and our primate cousins – a small margin in which may lie important clues both to how we evolved and to what makes us humans different from one another.

In a study published online in Nature yesterday, researchers led by Snyder in the USA and Lars Steinmetz at EMBL in Heidelberg have found that similar differences in gene regulation also occur in an organism which is much farther from us in the evolutionary tree: baker’s yeast.

Policy regarding use

EMBL press and picture releases including photographs, graphics, movies and videos are copyrighted by EMBL. They may be freely reprinted and distributed for non-commercial use via print, broadcast and electronic media, provided that proper attribution to authors, photographers and designers is made.

Sonia Furtado
EMBL Press Officer
Meyerhofstr. 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Tel.: +49 (0)6221 387 8263
Fax: +49 (0)6221 387 8525
sonia.furtado@embl.de

Sonia Furtado | EMBL
Further information:
http://www.embl.org
http://www.embl.de/aboutus/communication_outreach/media_relations/2010/100318_Heidelberg/index.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University

nachricht Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

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...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

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...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

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...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Transport of molecular motors into cilia

28.03.2017 | Life Sciences

A novel hybrid UAV that may change the way people operate drones

28.03.2017 | Information Technology

NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts

28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>