26 June 2018

Not junk: ‘Jumping gene’ is critical for early embryo ~ Nicholas Weiler, UCSF ~ 21 June 2018

Thanks to Resonance Science Foundation for sharing this.

The original article is from UCSF.

A so-called “jumping gene” that researchers long considered either genetic junk or a pernicious parasite is actually a critical regulator of the first stages of embryonic development, according to a new study in mice led by UC San Francisco scientists and published June 21, 2018 in Cell.

Only about 1 percent of the human genome encodes proteins, and researchers have long debated what the other 99 percent is good for. Many of these non–protein coding regions are known to contain important regulatory elements that orchestrate gene activity, but others are thought to be evolutionary garbage that is just too much trouble for the genome to clean up.

For example, fully half of our DNA is made up of “transposable elements,” or “transposons,” virus-like genetic material that has the special ability of duplicating and reinserting itself in different locations in the genome, which has led researchers to dub them genetic parasites. Over the course of evolution, some transposons have left hundreds or thousands of copies of themselves scattered across the genome. While most of these stowaways are thought to be inert and inactive, others create havoc by altering or disrupting cells’ normal genetic programming and have been associated with diseases such as certain forms of cancer.

Now UCSF scientists have revealed that, far from being a freeloader or parasite, the most common transposon, called LINE1, which accounts for fully 24 percent of the human genome, is actually necessary for embryos to develop past the two-cell stage.

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