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Human, Fly and Worm Genome More Similar Than You Think

Aug 28, 2014 11:25 AM EDT
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Researchers analyzing human, fly and worm genomes have found that they are more similar than you would think, according to a new study.

Their commonalities reflect their shared ancestry, as well as offer insight into embryonic development, gene regulation and other biological processes vital to understanding human biology and disease.

Scientists from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) studied more than 67 billion gene sequences from humans, flies and worms, and found that all three species share a great deal of gene expression patterns, particularly for developmental genes.

Though it may not seem like it, this detailed information is important because it reveals a lot about human biology as well.

"One way to describe and understand the human genome is through comparative genomics and studying model organisms," Mark Gerstein from Yale University, lead author on one of the papers, said in a NHGRI news release. "The special thing about the worm and fly is that they are very distant from humans evolutionarily, so finding something conserved across all three - human, fly and worm - tells us it is a very ancient, fundamental process."

Specifically, the ways in which DNA is packaged in the cell, programs for turning on and off genes, and the gene expression levels for both protein-coding and non-protein-coding genes are comparable among the trio.

Additionally, the species had similar features of chromatin - which packages DNA in the cell - and how it was organized and influences gene regulation.

"These findings give us a map of highly important regions of the genome that will guide the scientific community in future research projects related to cell biology and, in extension, to disease," Sarah Djebali, co-author of one of the papers, added in a press release.

Not to mention investigators explored parallels in transcription factors - proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences - and found that "the general principles of regulation are more or less similar," said co-senior author Michael Snyder.

"The modENCODE investigators have provided a valuable resource for researchers worldwide," added NHGRI Director Eric Green, Ph.D. "The insights gained about the workings of model organisms' genomes greatly help to inform our understanding of human biology."

The work is described in further detail in the journal Nature.

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