The newly found human angiogenesis genes are great candidates for drugs, says Marcotte.
"Tumors fool your body into feeding them by initiating blood vessel growth, and that's the reason we're interested in angiogenesis," says Marcotte. "So, genes for angiogenesis are common targets for chemotherapy. Some of the most effective chemotherapies block angiogenesis."
The scientists also found a set of genes in nematode worms involved in human breast cancer. Surprisingly, it is the same set of genes in the worms responsible for determining how many male offspring a parent worm births.
In plants, they found a gene that is involved with a genetic disorder called Waardenburg syndrome, which causes a significant fraction of cases of human deafness. (Strangely, plants use the gene as part of their system for sensing gravity, called gravitropism.)
The researchers are teasing out genes for a variety of human disorders, from mental retardation and birth defects to cataracts. Their goal is to find new genetic targets for therapy.
"By exploiting evolution and looking at lower organisms that don't even have the organs we're looking forblood vessels or even headsbut share some of the underlying molecular processes, we're able to discover genes relevant to human diseases," says Marcotte.
Marcotte admits it may seem odd to look for human disease genes in something like a plant or yeast, but that the information is proving to be extremely useful, if not surprising.
"When we found the genes in plants responsible for Waardenberg syndrome in humans," he says, "we were screaming in the halls."
|Contact: Lee Clippard|
University of Texas at Austin