Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Decoding dark matter in genes

Possible future applications, for example, include making new cancer therapies based on how ribosomes differentiate in healthy versus cancerous tissue.
February 19, 2016
Decoding dark matter in genes

In 1994, researchers from Harvard and Stanford published a paper in which they described three mice: one was yellow and fat, one mottled and fat, and the last one was brown and lean. An ordinary image, except for one thing: despite being so different, all three mice were genetically identical. If their genes were exactly the same, what was causing such striking differences in the mice?

When they were first discovered, RNA and DNA molecules that didn't code for proteins were dubbed the "dark matter" of the genome because their function was unknown. Today we know that these molecules can affect gene expression and even change traits by turning on or off certain genes.

Decoding the Dark Matter of the Human Genome

by Elena E. Giorgi

Both animal and human studies have shown that traits acquired by the parents, such as stress responses or the ability to store fat, can be passed on to their offspring. While DNA remains unaltered, what triggers these changes in phenotype is the activation or deactivation of genes--in other words, whether certain genes produce the proteins they code for. Possible future applications, for example, include making new cancer therapies based on how ribosomes differentiate in healthy versus cancerous tissue.

This story first appeared in HuffPost Science.


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