Study sheds more light on genes' 'on/off' switches

Medical Xpress | February 26, 2019

It takes just 2 percent of the human genome to code for all of the proteins that make cellular functions from producing energy to repairing tissues possible. So what does the other 98 percent do? A large portion of this so-called noncoding DNA controls the expression of genes, switching them on and off. This regulation is essential because every cell has the same DNA. In other words, the only thing that makes a muscle cell different from a brain cell in which genes are activated. It's why the University of Michigan scientists are using sophisticated computational methods to investigate how genetic variation in noncoding DNA can increase a person's susceptibility to certain diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. In a new paper in the journal Genetics, they compare five types of regulatory regions that have been identified in the past few years in an effort to figure out how the regions behave in different types of cells. "When people try to look at how gene regulation occurs, they look at different epigenomic information using sequencing, trying to understand molecular profiles," says lead author Arushi Varshney, a Ph.D. candidate in human genetics.

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