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San Diego, Calif.
Researchers at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
, using technology made by Madison-based NimbleGen Systems
, have developed a method to identify thousands of regulatory sequences in the human genome, according to a study published today in Nature.
The purpose of the study was to find within the human genome the protein sequences known as promoters, the starting points of the genes that determine how cells in the body as diverse as skin cells or neurons are formed from the same DNA.
"Promoters are a type of genetic switch that turn gene expression on or off," said the Ludwig Institute's Bing Ren, the senior author of the study and a faculty member at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine. "If we know where the promoters are, we can study how the genetic switches work in a cell and investigate their connection to human diseases."
Researchers found 10,567 active promoters, 5,449 of which were previously unidentified.
NimbleGen's DNA micro-arrays contain about 400,000 sets of single-stranded DNA on an area the size of a fingernail. Researchers add samples of other genetic material, which binds itself to the DNA on the arrays and creates new genetic sequences. When these altered genes are compared to the original ones, as well as untouched micro-arrays used as experimental controls, the researchers can see exactly where the binding occurred - and that leads them to the promoters.
The Ludwig Institute collected the samples and did much of the final analysis, while NimbleGen's facilities in Iceland performed the lab work using the micro-array technology.
It is hoped that further genetic research into promoters will enable the formulation of medical treatments that are personalized for the individual patients, a field called pharmacogenetics.
"This is the first time that anybody's gone through the whole human genome and ... empirically mapped promoters," said Roland Green, chief technology officer and vice president of research and development for NimbleGen. "We're the first group to get through the whole genome with this new technology."