Scientists at Penn State have shed light on some of the processes that regulate genes -- such as the processes that ensure that proteins are produced at the correct time, place, and amount in an organism -- and they also have shed light on the evolution of the DNA regions that regulate genes. The team focused on regulatory regions that, when bound to the protein GATA1, are thought to turn on genes that play an important role in the development of red blood cells. "Our findings could help others to develop drugs to treat people who suffer from sickle-cell anemia and other blood disorders," said Ross Hardison, the T. Ming Chu Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the team's leader. The results will be published on 1 December 2008 in the journal Genome Research.
Scientists once believed that nearly all DNA regulatory regions would be maintained, or conserved, in the DNA of related species over the course of their evolution because the regions contribute to essential biological functions. Scientists also believed that, when bound to specific proteins such as GATA1, DNA regulatory regions influence the expression of genes. But now researchers at Penn State have provided new evidence that not all of the DNA segments that are bound to GATA1 have been conserved in the genomes of related animals. They also found that the GATA1-bound DNA segments that are conserved among mammals do act to control the level of expression of certain genes.
To make their discovery, the team used a technique called chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) to identify all the DNA segments that bind to the GATA1 protein along most of a mouse chromosome. The technique works by using an antibody that specifically binds to GATA1 and pulls it from the genome along with the DNA segments to which the protein is bound. In this way, the researchers were able to isolate 63 DNA segments that are associated with GATA1 in the mouse chromosome. They then comp
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