Learning the alphabet of gene control

(Nanowerk News) Scientists from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have made progress in understanding how human genes are regulated. In their study ("DNA-Binding Specificities of Human Transcription Factors") they have identified the DNA sequences, which bound to over four hundred proteins controlling the expression of genes.
After the human genome was sequenced in the year 2000, it was hoped that the knowledge of the entire sequence of human DNA could rapidly be translated to medical benefits such as novel drugs, and predictive tools that would identify individuals at risk of disease. This, however, turned out to be harder than anticipated.
'The genome is like a book written in a foreign language, we know the letters but cannot understand why a human genome makes a human or the mouse genome a mouse', says Professor Jussi Taipale, who led the study at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition. 'Why some individuals have higher risk to develop common diseases such as heart disease or cancer has been even less understood.'
In addition, binding specificities of human transcription factors were compared to those of the mouse. Surprisingly, no differences were found. According to the scientists, these results suggest that the basic machinery of gene expression is similar in humans and mice, and that the differences in size and shape are caused not by differences in transcription factor proteins, but by presence or absence of the specific sequences that bind to them.
'Taken together, the work represents a large step towards deciphering the code that controls gene expression, and provides an invaluable resource to scientists all over the world to further understand the function of the whole human genome', says Professor Taipale. 'The resulting increase in our ability to read the genome will also improve our ability to translate the rapidly accumulating genomic information to medical benefits'.
This project was supported by the Center for Biosciences at Karolinska Institutet, Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Research Council, Science for Life Laboratory, the Swedish Cancer Foundation, ERC Advanced Grant GROWTHCONTROL, and EU FP7 Health project SYSCOL.
Source: Cordis