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Landmark comparative genomics study highlights the importance of 'junk' DNA in higher eukaryotes

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., Fri., July 15, 2005 A ground-breaking comparative genomics study appears online today in the journal Genome Research. Led by Adam Siepel, graduate student in Dr. David Haussler's laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the study describes the most comprehensive comparison of conserved DNA sequences in the genomes of vertebrates, insects, worms, and yeast to date.

One of their major findings was that as organism complexity increases, so too does the proportion of conserved bases in the non-protein-coding (or "junk") DNA sequences. This underscores the importance of gene regulation in more complex species.

The manuscript also reports exciting biological findings regarding highly conserved DNA elements and the development of a new computational tool for comparing several whole-genome sequences. It was authored by multiple investigators from leading research institutions, including Penn State University (University Park, PA), Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO), Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX), and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

One of the most powerful approaches for pinpointing biologically relevant elements in genomic DNA is to identify sequences that are similar across multiple species. Such approaches are particularly useful for analyzing non-protein-coding sequences sometimes called "junk" DNA. Although "junk" DNA is poorly understood, the increasing availability of whole-genome sequences is rapidly enhancing the ability of scientists to ascertain the biological significance of these non-protein-coding regions.

"Looking for functional elements in mammalian and other vertebrate genomes is like looking for needles in a haystack," explained Siepel. "By focusing on conserved elements, you get a much smaller haystack. It's not guaranteed to have every needle in it, and not everything in it is a needle, but you're much more likely to find
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Contact: Maria A. Smit
smit@cshl.edu
516-422-4013
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
14-Jul-2005


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