New screening method may speed hunt for disease-causing genes

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Time and money spent in the quest for disease-causing genes may be drastically cut using a new identification method developed by Purdue University and University of Florida scientists.

By merging two established genetic-screening techniques, Lauren McIntyre, Purdue assistant professor of agronomy, and Marta Wayne, Florida assistant professor of zoology, may have found a way to save researchers thousands of dollars and years of work in finding candidate genes -- those most likely involved with specific inherited diseases.

The two authors report their work in the Oct. 22 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new technique narrows the pool of genes in a study from thousands of possibilities to fewer than 100 -- perhaps as few as 20, said McIntyre, a researcher in Purdue's Computational Genomics Group. The results should help scientists pinpoint target genes in any species for which the genome is complete.

But this is a daunting task: Fruit flies have about 14,000 genes; people have about 30,000 genes. When scientists hunt for genes responsible for inherited traits for such maladies as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases, they use a combination of intuition and screening techniques to narrow the field of possibilities. Mapping studies alone can identify between hundreds and thousands of genes, leaving researchers to sort through long lists of potentially causative genes at a substantial cost in time and money.

"Although the genomes of many species have been mapped, the function of those genes is still unknown," McIntyre said. "If you have 500 genes and they are unannotated, you won't have the resources to follow up on all of them.

"Scientists spend the money and do the work, and they often wind up with a false positive. Our approach adds an additional quantitative step, giving scientists options instead of forcing them to rely solely on subjective information." '"/>

Contact: Susan A. Steeves
Purdue University

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