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Individual gene differences can be tested in zebrafish
Date:10/25/2012

HERSHEY, Pa. -- The zebrafish is a potential tool for testing one class of unique individual genetic differences found in humans, and may yield information helpful for the emerging field of personalized medicine, according to a team led by Penn State College of Medicine scientists. The differences, or mutations, in question create minor changes in amino acids -- the building blocks of DNA -- from person to person. Zebrafish can be used as a model to understand what biological effects result from these genetic mutations.

Personalized medicine uses modern technology and tools to find biological and genetic differences in individuals so that treatment is more effectively delivered.

"A major challenge of personalized medicine is the lack of a standard way to define the importance of each of the many unique mutations found in an individual's genetic code," said Keith Cheng, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology and lead researcher. "Approaches are particularly needed to experimentally determine what differences these mutations make. It is difficult to distinguish the effects of a single amino acid change caused by those changes in our DNA."

The zebrafish is a good choice because of its similarity to humans as a vertebrate, its transparency as an embryo and the powerful genetic tools available in this model organism.

The Cheng lab's approach is like testing small damages in car parts, one at a time. For example, a "mutant" car headlight is known not to work when a certain connector is missing. Taking a normally functioning connector out of a working headlight and replacing it with a connector damaged in a specific way -- a cracked wire casing or a corroded wire connector, for example -- can show whether the damage matters. If the light works, then that mutation makes no difference on the function of the headlight. If the light does not work, the mutation has an effect.

Postdoctoral fellow Zurab Tsetskhladze, who perform
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Contact: Matthew Solovey
msolovey@hmc.psu.edu
717-531-8606
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert

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