Two new studies, one to be published on 5 March 2004 in the journal Cell and the other published on 27 February 2004 in Molecular Cell, reveal a surprising relationship among the hordes of gene regulatory molecules that are the ultimate controllers of life processes. The surprise is that only a small portion of all genes--those needed to respond to emergencies--within a simple organism such as bakers yeast are heavily regulated. Most other genes, in contrast, typically control more routine housekeeping functions of the cell and appear to require much less regulation. "It appears that the cells strategy is analogous to the way people run their lives--we focus more attention on emergencies like an asthma attack rather than on routine but essential housekeeping chores, like laundry," explains Frank Pugh, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and the leader of the research teams that made the discoveries.
In addition to Pugh, the researchers include graduate students Andrew D. Basehoar and Kathryn L. Huisinga, and Sara J. Zanton, a senior research technologist. "Often only a select few genes are intensively studied because they undergo lots of exciting regulation," Pugh says. "These highly regulated genes tend to respond to acute stresses like environmental toxins, heat, and viral infection, and are often taken as representative of the types of regulation governing most genes--but this appears not to be the case."
Now with the advent of DNA microarray technology, the regulation of all genes within an organism can be studied simultaneously. "Genome-wide approaches allow us to see the whole forest of genes rather than focusing on just a few of the trees," Pugh says. By comparing the dependencies of every gene on the hordes of molecular regulators, Pugh noticed that most regulators tended to seek out the same small set of genes--those that typically respond to emergencies--while a select few regulators targeted the vast majority of the genome. When Pughs team examined some of these regulators in more detail, several additional surprises jumped out.
Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert!
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