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Primates' Unique Gene Regulation Mechanism: Little-Understood DNA Elements Serve Important Purpose

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ScienceDaily (Feb. 9, 2011)

Scientists have discovered a new way genes are regulated that is unique to primates, including humans and monkeys. Though the human genome -- all the genes that an individual possesses -- was sequenced 10 years ago, greater understanding of how genes function and are regulated is needed to make advances in medicine, including changing the way we diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of diseases. ...

The newly identified mechanism involves Alu elements, repetitive DNA elements that spread throughout the genome as primates evolved. While scientists have known about the existence of Alu elements for many years, their function, if any, was largely unknown.

Maquat discovered that Alu elements team up with molecules called long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) to regulate protein production. They do this by ensuring messenger RNAs (mRNAs), which take genetic instructions from DNA and use it to create proteins, stay on track and create the right number of proteins. If left unchecked, protein production can spiral out of control, leading to the proliferation or multiplication of cells, which is characteristic of diseases such as cancer.

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TAGGED: BIOLOGY, GENETICS


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