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Havoc in biology's most-used human cell line
Date:3/12/2013

HeLa cells are the world's most commonly used human cell lines, and have served as a standard for understanding many fundamental biological processes. In a study published today in G3: Genes, Genomes and Genetics online, scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, announce they have successfully sequenced the genome of a HeLa cell line. It provides a high-resolution genomic reference that reveals the striking differences between the HeLa genome and that of normal human cells. The study could improve the way HeLa cells are used to model human biology.

The scientists' analysis of the HeLa genome revealed widespread abnormalities in both the number and structure of chromosomes, as well as factors commonly associated with cancer cells like losing healthy copies of genes. In particular, the researchers found that countless regions of the chromosomes in each cell were arranged in the wrong order and had extra or fewer copies of genes. This is a telltale sign of chromosome shattering, a recently discovered phenomenon associated with 2-3% of all cancers. Knowledge of the genetic landscape of these cells can inform the design of future studies using HeLa cells, and strengthen the biological conclusions that can be made from them.

"The results provide the first detailed sequence of a HeLa genome," explain Jonathan Landry and Paul Pyl from EMBL, who carried out the research. "It demonstrates how genetically complex HeLa is compared to normal human tissue. Yet, possibly because of this complexity, no one had systematically sequenced the genome, until now."

"Our study underscores the importance of accounting for the abnormal characteristics of HeLa cells in experimental design and analysis, and has the potential to refine the use of HeLa cells as a model of human biology," adds Lars Steinmetz from EMBL, who led the project.

For decades HeLa cells have provided effective and easily usable biological models for researching hum
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Contact: Isabelle Kling
isabelle.kling@embl.de
49-622-138-78355
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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