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Researchers identify human DNA on the fast track

team showed that these RNAs fold into particular shapes characterized by several helices. The changes to HAR1 during human evolution seem to have altered the length and configuration of some of these helices. "It's a brand new structure, unique," said Salama. "The downside is that we don't have many good clues as to how it functions."

Haussler's team is now following up on the clues that they do have. Other DNA regions produce stable RNA structures that have a variety of functions such as gene regulation or controlling the action of proteins. Furthermore, the same cells that express the HAR1 genes also produce a protein called reelin, which helps establish the architecture of the brain.

According to Haussler, the possibility that the HAR1 regions may play a role in the function of reelin is especially interesting since defects in reelin expression have been associated with schizophrenia and other mental disorders. "We still can't say much about the function [of the DNA containing HAR1]," said Haussler, "but it's a very exciting finding because it is expressed in cells that have a fundamental role in the design and development of the mammalian cortex."

And beyond HAR1 lie HAR2, HAR3, and so on through the 49 regions Pollard identified with her DNA screen. "We've only studied one of these regions carefully," said Haussler. "Now we have to go through the other 48."


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Source:Howard Hughes Medical Institute


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