Gene mapping key to unlocking human secrets, says geneticist

rmining the exact sequence of the chemicals contained in DNA involves a string of three billion figures.

Genetic sequencing is the ultimate map, like knowing every inch of the road, Womack said. Mapping as we currently do it in cattle is not finding every inch of the road and defining it, but finding mile posts along the way and the functional elements that actually code for something like disease resistance.

In comparative mapping, Womack studies, for example, chromosome 1 on the human genome and by comparison, identifies what genes on chromosome 1 match up in the bovine. This may mean that chromosome 1 in the human matches chromosome 3 in cattle. By using this method, if a gene coding for human disease resistance is found on chromosome 1, then Womack can look at the comparative map and hypothesize that a similar gene may be found on chromosome 3 in cattle.

This comparison may help to develop a better understanding of how viruses and bacteria affect cattle.

Instead of sequencing the host species, some researchers focus on the virus or bacteria affecting that group. Sequencing a viral genome, like SARS, is typically easier than an entire species because it is very small with just a few thousand bases as oppose to billions. However, viruses have the unique ability to rapidly evolve into resistant stages making it difficult to develop an effective antibiotic treatment.

In the case of the SARS virus, Womack believes a new strain of a pre-existing virus genetically changed into a more virulent form. Knowing more about the human genome and the virus sequence may help slow the spread of this and other diseases.

Understanding infection involves understanding the pathogen and the host which both fall under genetic influence, Womack adds.

There are an estimated 30,000-40,000 genes in the mammal, all of which have approximately the same amount of genetic information, whether it be cattle or human. Finding where

Contact: Diane Oswald
Texas A&M University

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