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Some genetic research is best done close to the evolutionary home

BERKELEY, CA - Some aspects of evolution are like the real estate business in that it's all about location, location, location! Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the DOE Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) have shown that when it comes to comparing evolutionarily conserved DNA sequences that regulate the expression of genes, more closely related species are best.

"While one can compare distant vertebrates to humans and identify sequences that are highly evolutionarily conserved, such elements are few and far between," said Len Pennacchio, a geneticist with Berkeley Lab's Genomics Division and the head of JGI's genome analysis program. "In contrast, by comparing species that are more closely related, such as other mammals, we can find much more DNA sequence alignment."

Pennacchio and Shyam Prabhakar are the principal authors of a paper that appears in the June issue of the publication Genome Research, which presents the results of a comparative genomics study that quantified the advantages of staying close to the evolutionary home. Other co-authors of the paper were Francis Poulin, Malak Shoukry, Veena Afzal, Edward Rubin and Olivier Couronne.

When Mother Nature develops something that works, she tends to stick with it. Hence sequences of DNA that serve as protein-coding genes or enhancers that regulate the expression of those genes have been conserved through thousands of years of evolution. Gene hunters have capitalized on this tendency by comparing the DNA of different species to identify genes and determine their functions. For example, the genome of the Fugu fish contains essentially the same genes as the human genome but carries them in approximately 400 million bases as compared to the three billion bases that make up human DNA.

Cross-species DNA sequence comparisons have also been used to identify the enhancers that regulate genes meaning they control whe
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
12-Jun-2006


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