Princeton University scientists have developed a new way to identify the hidden genetic material responsible for complex traits, a breakthrough they believe ultimately could lead to a deeper understanding of how multiple genes interact to produce everything from blue eyes to blood pressure problems.
Writing in the April 15 edition of Nature, scientists led by Leonid Kruglyak, a professor in Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, report that they developed a straightforward method for studying millions of yeast cells at the same time.
Their method allows them to identify regions of the genome that cause a specific trait in the offspring of two yeast strains that have been mated. In using such a large group, the scientists have been able to identify subtle patterns that could not be detected before.
"One of the important insights gained from research enabled by the sequencing of the human genome is that, rather than being obvious, the connections between genes and most traits are very complicated," Kruglyak said. "Our results show, however, that it is possible to identify many of the factors underlying complex traits using straightforward techniques."
The Princeton team's finding could help illuminate the answers to the current difficulties inherent in tying traits to genes, known as the "missing heritability problem," Kruglyak said.
There are some cases, he said, where scientists have identified mutations in single genes that produce a specific trait, such as a susceptibility to cystic fibrosis or Huntington's disease. In most cases, however, scientists believe that large numbers of genes working in concert produce trait variation. Some genes play a major role while others are more "quiet" but still are important. Scientists want to know all of the genes involved in producing a given complex trait, but they have not been able to f
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