By working with Canadians of French ancestry who suffer a rare genetic disease, researchers have discovered how three genes contribute to abnormal growth, making a breakthrough that will improve our understanding of many disorders such as foetal and childhood growth retardation, abnormal development of body parts and cancer.
"As a result of the Human Genome Project, we know the basic identity of essentially all the genes in the human body, but we don't automatically know what they do in detail," explained lead researcher Dr. Mark Samuels of the University of Montreal's Department of Medicine and the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Centre. "It's like opening your car and seeing the parts, but not knowing what each one does. When a part breaks however, you learn how it fits with the rest of the machine. Working with people who have specific health or development problems linked to specific genes enables us to see how those genes contribute to our bodies' development and functioning."
In this case, the team of researchers characterized the molecular basis in patients who suffer from Meier-Gorlin Syndrome (MGS), a rare disorder that is characterized by short stature, small ears, and absent or underdeveloped knee-caps. The patients were mostly francophonic, coming from the Maritimes, Quebec, British Columbia as well as the Louisiana Cajun community. MGS is a classic "single gene disorder," meaning it is related to mutations in individual genes, although in the case of MGS different patients surprisingly seem to carry mutations in any of three different genes.
The genes are called ORC1L, ORC4L and CDT1, and are known to play a critical role in correct copying of DNA. Cells reproduce by dividing in two. All the chromosomes must also be duplicated. This process is tightly controlled to prevent having too many or two few copies of large segments of the genome. "This seems to be the first example of any naturally occurring, inherited mutations identified in this set of important regulatory genes in any mammal. Finding the genes is a great example of the value of this type of research," Samuels said. "We learn the cause of the disease, and discover new things about our cellular function. However we still have a lot to learn about why mutations in these genes lead to the specific consequences in Meier-Gorlin patients."
There are 20-25,000 genes in the human genetic sequence, and it's important to note that they don't necessarily each correspond to a specific function or group of functions, or indeed to a single disease. The same gene can have subtle effects on a number of bodily functions. Moreover, in complex genetic diseases – diabetes, for example – environment and lifestyle have as much or more of an impact on health than a person's genetic background.
"Understanding rare genetic conditions like MGS is important to the general public for two reasons," Samuels stressed. "Firstly, they provide insight into how our genes, and therefore our bodies, work. Secondly, although there are few people concerned for each particular disorder, in sum all patients with genetic conditions consume substantial amounts of health resources, and by diagnosing them more quickly, we can improve patient management and reduce the strain on the health care system." Research suggests that up to 70% of admissions to paediatric hospitals may be related to some kind of genetic disorder. "It's also important to note that behind the science and the statistics, there are real people suffering. It's an immense relief for patients and their families to finally have a clear diagnosis," Samuels added.
In an unusual coincidence, a competing team of researchers obtained similar findings on Meier-Gorlin Syndrome in a different set of patients. These findings were published in the same issue of Nature Genetics. Samuels notes, "Neither team can claim absolute priority in the discovery. However this is the way science works best: when important results are quickly verified by multiple teams independently."
The Canadian work was carried out as part of a long term commitment to rare genetic disease research by the Atlantic Medical Genetic and Genomic Initiative (AMGGI). The findings were published in Nature Genetics and involved researchers from Dalhousie University, the University of Montreal-CHU Ste-Justine, the University of Louisiana and the University of British Columbia. The AMGGI project is funded by Industry Canada via Genome Canada and Genome Atlantic, as well as a large number of organizations, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency – Atlantic Innovation Fund, Dalhousie University, Capital Health and the IWK Foundation. The full list can be found at Genome Atlantic's website.
William Raillant-Clark | EurekAlert!
For a chimpanzee, one good turn deserves another
27.06.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Mathematik in den Naturwissenschaften (MPIMIS)
New method to rapidly map the 'social networks' of proteins
27.06.2017 | Salk Institute
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
27.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
27.06.2017 | Life Sciences
27.06.2017 | Earth Sciences