Genetic switch can unlock secrets of cancer

April 21st, 2008 - 1:54 pm ICT by admin  

Sydney, April 21 (IANS) Researchers have mapped the genetic switches that will help open up ways to unlock the secrets of cancer and other diseases. These genetic switches are methylation points, numbering over two million in plant genome, whose exact location has been mapped for the first time by researchers of the University of Western Australia (UWA) and Salk Institute in California.

Researchers focused on unlocking their secret code called epigenetics. Until recently scientists did not have a clear picture how many methylation points a biological system had or the tools to find them all.

Sequencing the epigenetic code (epigenome) of a plant provides new directions for research in plant breeding, food production and tolerance to environmental change.

When the same can be achieved in humans, it will lead to improvements in disease diagnosis and understanding and controlling cancer.

Plant scientists are paving the way for such analysis in humans by establishing the technologies needed for epigenome sequencing.

“Imagine a sound-studio mixing desk, full of switches, sliders, knobs and dials, all set to specific levels to control the sound being produced by musical instruments,” Harvey Millar of the UWA.

“Now apply this picture to the thousands of genes that you inherited from your parents and imagine that each gene is an instrument.

“Many of us are aware of the inheritance of our genes, but did you know that you also inherited the mixing desk? The precise settings of some of the controls on your genetic mixing desk can be traced back through your family for generations,” he said.

The research project has also shown that removing methylation can change the expression of thousands of genes without ever changing the sequence of the DNA.

These ground breaking new results, published on 18 April in Cell, provide new avenues for research in plants and humans.

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