St. Louis, March 21, 2008 Among the approximately 23,000 genes found in human DNA, scientists currently estimate that there may be as few as 50 to 100 that have no counterparts in other species. Expand that comparison to include the primate family known as hominoids, and there may be several hundred unique genes.
Despite the distinctive contributions these genes likely make to our species, little is known about the roles they play. Now scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have produced the first detailed analysis of the cellular functions of a hominoid-only gene, TBC1D3. They affirmed earlier evidence linking the gene to cancer, showing that TBC1D3's protein can keep cellular growth factors active and helps turn on RAS, a protein that is active in a third of all human cancers.
"I was astounded at how little attention has been given to human-specific genes, which make us what we are and could potentially offer a great deal of insight into human physiology," says senior author Philip D. Stahl, Ph.D., the Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Professor and head of Cell Biology and Physiology. "In addition, certain pathogens, such as the malaria parasite, have human specific-components in their infection cycle. Human-only genes could offer us unique insights into how the parasites take advantage of us and possibly provide potent new avenues for fighting back."
The paper appears online in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.
When scientists want to learn more about the function of a gene, they frequently disable or delete the gene in a laboratory animal and then look to see how the loss changes the animal. That won't be possible with genes unique to humans, Stahl notes. Researchers will have to resort to altering the genes' functions in human cell lines, or transplanting them into animals to see what effects they have.
TBC1D3 was originally identified by other scientists as a likely contributor to breast
|Contact: Michael Purdy|
Washington University School of Medicine