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Scientists find new genes for cancer, other diseases in plants, yeast and worms
Date:4/13/2010

AUSTIN, TexasFrom deep within the genomes of organisms as diverse as plants, worms and yeast, scientists have uncovered new genes responsible for causing human diseases such as cancer and deafness.

The University of Texas at Austin scientists exploited the fact that all life on Earth shares common ancestry, and therefore shares sets of genes.

They found genes in yeast, for example, that humans use to make veins and arteries, even though yeasts have no blood vessels at all. Yeasts use those same genes to fix their cell walls in response to stress.

"Basically, we figured out a way to discover the genetic basis for disease by looking at organisms other than humans and finding disease equivalents," says Edward Marcotte, professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

To find the new genes, Marcotte and his graduate students developed a computer algorithm that first sifts through vast sets of existing genomic data for worms, mice, yeast, plants and humans. The algorithm pairs up sets of genes that overlap between these organisms and humans.

In doing so, it highlights genes that are known to work together to do one thing in the non-human organism, but the function of which are not yet known in humans. The scientists can then test those new genes in the lab to determine their function.

"The basic essence of the method is that there are ancient modules of genes that have been reused in different contexts over time," says Marcotte. "So the yeast uses a particular module with a particular set of inputs and outputs to do one task. Humans use this same module with different inputs and outputs to do another."

In the case of blood vessel formation, or angiogenesis, the scientists found 62 genes that yeast use to fix their cell walls that matched with a few genes known to be responsible for vein and artery formation in humans.

Developmental biologist John Wallingford and his graduate students then tested the hum
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Contact: Lee Clippard
lclippard@mail.utexas.edu
512-232-0675
University of Texas at Austin
Source:Eurekalert

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