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Jumping genes provide extensive 'raw material' for evolution, Penn study finds
Date:6/1/2010

PHILADELPHIA - Using high-throughput sequencing to map the locations of a common type of jumping gene within a person's entire genome, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found extensive variation in these locations among the individuals they studied, further underscoring the role of these errant genes in maintaining genetic diversity.

The investigators determined that any two peoples' genomes differ at roughly 285 sites out of the 1139 sites studied. These results were found by scanning the genomes of 25 individuals, 15 of which were unrelated. They report their findings online in Genome Research.

Jumping genes also called transposons are sequences of DNA that move to different areas of the genome within the same cell.

"The significance of this work is that there is much more diversity in our genome due to insertions by this family of transposons than previously thought," said co-author Haig Kazazian, MD, Seymour Gray Professor of Molecular Medicine, in the Penn Department of Genetics. "This movement of genetic material provides the raw material of genetic evolution, and it doesn't take into account the insertions that we believe occur outside of the sperm and egg cells studied in this project."

Transposons are a source of diversity within a species' gene pool, with implications on many levels. For example, slight changes in genes help organisms adapt and survive in new environments, and populations with genetic diversity are less vulnerable to disease and problems with reproduction.

Insertions into certain spots in the genome can also cause cell function to go awry, so understanding their placement and variation in the human genome is important for a fundamental understanding of disease. Insertions can cause many genetic diseases, such as hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and may play a role in the development of cancer.

Retrotransposons are the major class of jumping genes, with the
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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