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From genome comparisons, UCSD researchers learn lessons about evolution and cancer

San Diego, Oct. 10, 2003 -- In 1905, American astronomer Percival Lowell predicted the existence of a new planet he called Planet X. Lowell proved that this new planet existed even though no one had been able to see it in the sky. Twenty-five years later, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh stumbled on images of X photographed from the Flagstaff Observatory in Arizona. Today, that planet is known as Pluto.

While it took twenty-five years for astronomers to go from theory to confirmation of Pluto's existence, it took genome scientists barely three months in 2003 to confirm a revolutionary new view of what happens in the human genome to cause dramatic evolutionary changes. Now, bioinformaticians at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) -- who posited that 'fragile' regions exist in the human genome that are more susceptible to gene rearrangements -- are collaborating with biologists to see if their new theory can yield potentially life-saving insights into diseases such as breast cancer, in which chromosomal rearrangements are implicated.

"It took only three months to go from theory to hard scientific evidence that there are regions of the genome that are subject to evolutionary 'earthquakes' over and over again," says Pavel Pevzner, who holds the Ronald R. Taylor Chair in computer science and engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering. "That is representative of how quickly knowledge is advancing in bioinformatics, and how useful this research can be for medicine and other fields."

In June, Pevzner and UCSD mathematics professor Glenn Tesler predicted the existence of evolutionary 'fault zones' -- hotspots where gene rearrangements are more likely to occur and change the architecture of our genomes. Their work was based on computational analysis and comparison of the human and mouse genomes. In a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Pevzner and Tesler estimated that these fault zones may be limite
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Contact: Doug Ramsey
dramsey@ucsd.edu
858-822-5825
University of California - San Diego
10-Oct-2003


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