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The Cutting Edge

Our Genes, Ourselves

MedMag Fall 10-our GenesIN ONE OF THE FIRST EFFORTS OF ITS KIND, UCLA researchers have taken mammalian genome maps one step further by showing not just the order in which genes fall in the genome but also which genes actually interact. The findings, published in the August 2010 issue of Genome Research, will help researchers better understand which genes work together and shed light on how they collaborate to help cells thrive or die.

The scientists used human genome maps developed several years ago for the worldwide Human Genome Project, as well as maps for dogs, cats and mice. They found substantial overlap and commonalities between gene interactions and networks across all four species, thus creating the first complete and comprehensive genetic-interaction maps for mammalian cells.

“Current genetic maps show the order of genes and where they physically reside, like a street map of homes,” says study author Desmond Smith, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology. “We took it one step further and were able to map which genes interact when they leave their homes and go to work.”

Some genes were found to have more extensive interactions than others, which may be helpful in finding specific drug targets to fight diseases such as cancer. Dr. Smith compared the gene networks involved in promoting disease to the criminal world. “The most well-connected gene represents someone powerful, like Al Capone, surrounded by his gang of mobsters. If we don’t have a drug to target this main gene, there may be an existing drug that will effectively knock out a second-in-command, launching a flank attack that would cripple the primary gene’s actions.”


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