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New technique for tracking gene regulators

UPTON, NY -- Finding out where gene-regulator proteins bind to DNA and identifying the genes they regulate just got a step easier thanks to a new technique developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. The technique could greatly speed the process of unraveling the role these proteins play in turning on and off the genes that establish the very identity of cells -- be they brain cells, liver, or blood -- as well as what might go awry in certain conditions like cancer.

The Brookhaven scientists, together with collaborators from Oregon Health & Science University, Emory School of Medicine, and Stony Brook University, have published the first results using their technique in the December 29, 2004 issue of Cell, where they describe the human-genome binding sites of a regulator protein known as CREB.

"Though scientists have now decoded almost all of the entire human genome -- the series of nucleotide bases (labeled A, T, G, and C) that make up the source code for running the machinery of the cell -- we are just beginning to decipher it," said biologist John Dunn, who led Brookhaven's role in the research. "It's as if we have in our hands a giant book of life, but we are barely beginning to learn how to read it."

"Our technique gives us a new way to index the code, to find the places where regulators act -- where the on/off switches are that determine which genes are at work in different types of cells under different conditions," he said.

Previous, individual experiments have identified about 100 places where CREB binds to DNA and regulates genes in humans, so scientists know it is important, particularly in regulating cell differentiation, survival, and the function of nerve cells. But there has been no easy way to screen the entire genome. "We are the first to do a genome-wide survey," says Dunn.

The problem has been the sheer magnitude of information in the genome: three billion nuc
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Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
28-Dec-2004


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