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Biotech Science

Duke Scientists Map 'Silenced Genes' 42

palegray.net writes "Wired reports on new research into the phenomenon of 'silenced genes', genetic constructs that have no 'partner' in case one goes wrong over the course of your lifetime. Scientists at Duke University have mapped some 200 genes that may 'play a profound role' in the health of the average human. 'Many of the newly found imprinted genes are in regions of chromosomes already linked to the development of obesity, diabetes, cancer and some other major diseases, the researchers reported ... Scientists had thought imprinted genes would account for about 1 percent of the human genome. While scientists must double-check that the newly identified ones are truly silenced, the new map matches that tally.'"
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Duke Scientists Map 'Silenced Genes'

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  • by tloh ( 451585 ) on Saturday December 01, 2007 @06:38PM (#21547531)
    From the article, a bit more pertinent background:

    Usually, people inherit a copy of each gene from each parent and both copies are active, programmed to do their jobs whenever needed. If one copy of a gene becomes mutated and quits working properly, often the other copy can compensate.

    Genetic imprinting knocks out that backup. It means that for some genes, people inherit an active copy only from the mother or only from the father. Molecular signals tell, or "imprint," the copy from the other parent to be silent.
  • Uh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by goldaryn ( 834427 )
    From TFA:

    Sometimes imprinting goes awry before birth, leaving a normally silenced gene "on" or silencing one that should not be.
    Now a question is how imprinting may be changed to reactivate an imprinted gene after birth.

    Am I the only one concerned by this statement?
    • Why concerned, but not ecstatic?

      If you had no plan on applying genetic research, there would be no worldly reason to perform the research in the first place. Sure, Science for Science's sake is fun, but I'm sure a 1000x1000 grid Sudoku puzzle that used every known symbol would be just as consuming/fulfilling. More to the point, if you want further high-level research you need financial backing (Investors usually invest in projects that have a chance of a positive return).

    • by Renraku ( 518261 )
      Nope, not at all.

      It might be the first step to a good measure of control over certain genes.

      Or more deadly bioweapons.
      • or gene replacement therapy, which means that you could become a clone of anyone's genes that you could get your hands on..... as well as reactivating the genes with HGH therapy and shooting yourself through a 2nd growth stage that would make you younger..... c'mon what 90 year old man wouldn't like to be an 18 year old paris hilton
  • with a story like that dnf will rock when it ships!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 01, 2007 @07:16PM (#21547783)
    Not all genes are expressed by both the maternal and paternal lines. Some genetic defects are caused because both copies express themselves when one should be turned off. I'm sure the controls and implications will turn out to be more complicated than we know. But this is just another area where all the heat is epigenetic.

    Presumably this natural imprinting occurs when the DNA gets reprogrammed during fertilization. The de-methylation and re-methylation determines which sequences get turned off. The attempts at cloning using somatic nuclear tranfers skip this crucial step and are found to have different methylation patterns than natural cells. This leads to defective imprinting that may be the cause of the anomolies found in Dolly and others and may be the cause of the abnormally large offspring of clones as they are over-expressing some genes and have others turned off that should be on.
  • Yes but (Score:3, Funny)

    by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Saturday December 01, 2007 @07:52PM (#21547975) Journal
    Were they silenced for political reasons? or what?
  • So God wrote abandonware, too? Cool! Makes me feel better about developing for OS9.
  • machine learning (Score:5, Informative)

    by Takichi ( 1053302 ) on Saturday December 01, 2007 @08:52PM (#21548333)
    On the Duke news site [duke.edu] they give more information about how they came to their findings. They mention that they fed data about the sequences of genes known to be imprinted, and likely to be non-imprinted genes into a computer to check for differences. Based on that, they searched for other sequences that resembled the imprinted ones. That's why the results are just good guesses and more research need to be done to determine if they are true positives.
  • Like most articles on Science in the popular press, this article is oversimplified to the point of not being true anymore.

    Epigenetics is a relatively new field that deals with several new layers of the language of DNA that are only recently beginning to be understood. The 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Fire and Mello for their work in uncovering a phenomenon known as RNA interference that is a key part of epigenetic inheritance.

    Imprinting happens during gamete formation. It is a proces
  • From TFA: "Previous work by Jirtle and others shows the environment can reprogram how some genes operate, making them speed up or slow down or work at the wrong time. In a groundbreaking 2003 experiment, Jirtle fed pregnant mice different nutrients to alter the coat color of their babies. The feed affected chemical signals that control how hard a certain gene worked, determining when the babies had yellow coats like mom or brown ones."

    So were Lamarck's dismissed theories partly right?
    • No - Lamarck fabricated most of his results. Different levels of gene expressions have been known about since the start of genetics itself, usually they are accounted for via statistics (gene expression as a probability rather than a certainty). The environmental effects on genetics are very different from Lamarckian concepts. It's more unexpressed potential, rather than a primarily environmental driven process the Russians thought they had uncovered.

The other line moves faster.