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New technique gives scientists clearest picture yet of all the genes of an animal

BOSTON Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists have used a powerful gene-mapping technique to produce the clearest picture yet of all the genes of an animal the microscopic worm Caenorhabditis elegans (better known as C. elegans). Scientists believe the same technique may be used to bring the current, somewhat blurry picture of the human genome into sharper focus.

The study, which will be posted on the Nature Genetics website (http://www.nature.com/ng/) April 7 in advance of its publication in the journal, describes an effort to locate and precisely identify all of the approximately 19,000 genes that have been predicted to exist in the genome of C. elegans. The success of the technique in the worm, whose catalogue of genes is relatively small and well-mapped, is a strong indication that it can be applied to the human genome as well, the authors say.

"The completion of a 'rough draft' of the map of the human genome a couple of years ago was an important milestone in our understanding of how cells work," says the study's senior author, Marc Vidal, PhD, of Dana-Farber. "But the fact is, our current picture of the 'parts list' of the human genome is rather fuzzy. Computer programs have been used to predict the position and structure of genes. However, we don't know exactly where most genes begin and end, and there are literally thousands of gaps in our picture of how the building blocks of genes are arranged. Even the frequent claim that there are about 30,000 genes within the human genome is only an estimate."

Gaining a more accurate picture of the genome is crucial to future advances against cancer and other diseases. One of the goals of cancer research, for example, is to discover the complete set of proteins, the chief tools of cell life, that are involved in the disease, either directly or indirectly. To understand what such cancer-related proteins do and how they do it, scientists need to be a
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Contact: Bill Schaller
william_schaller@dfci.harvard.edu
617-632-5357
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
6-Apr-2003


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