Scientists find new genetic clue to cause of Alzheimer’s disease

Variations in a gene known as SORL1 may be a factor in the development of late onset Alzheimer’s disease, an international team of researchers has discovered. The genetic clue, which could lead to a better understanding of one cause of Alzheimer’s, is reported in Nature Genetics online, Jan. 14, 2007, and was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The researchers suggest that faulty versions of the SORL1 gene contribute to formation of amyloid plaques, a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s in the brains of people with the disease. They identified 29 variants that mark relatively short segments of DNA where disease-causing changes could lie. The study did not, however, identify specific genetic changes that result in Alzheimer’s.
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Scientists Crack the Genome of the Parasite Causing Trichomoniasis

Scientists have finally deciphered the genome of the parasite causing trichomoniasis, a feat that is already providing new approaches to improve the diagnosis and treatment of this sexually transmitted disease. According to the World Health Organization trichomoniasis affects an estimated 170 million people a year and is an under-diagnosed global health problem.

Led by Jane Carlton, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Parasitology at New York University School of Medicine, the team of scientists took four years to crack the surprisingly large genome of the single-celled parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. They published the draft sequence of the parasite’s genome in the Jan. 12, 2007, issue of the journal Science.

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Scientists find gene target that may protect against Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

The discovery by a six-member Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Genetics Consortium of a genetic risk factor for IBD has been reported in Science Express, the online publication of the journal Science. According to one of the Canadian principal investigators, director of the Laboratory in Genetics and Genomic Medicine of Inflammation at the Montreal Heart Institute, Dr. John D. Rioux, “This discovery may lead to a paradigm shift in our thinking from ‘genetics of diseases to genetics of health’, particularly as concerns Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.”
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Research team identifies human ‘memory gene’

Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) today announced the discovery of a gene that plays a significant role in memory performance in humans. The findings, reported by TGen and research colleagues at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, and Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, appear in the October 20 issue of Science. The study details how researchers associated memory performance with a gene called Kibra in over 1,000 individuals –both young and old– from Switzerland and Arizona. This study is the first to describe scanning the human genetic blueprint at over 500,000 positions to identify cognitive differences between humans.
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Genome code cracked for breast and colon cancers

Scientists have completed the first draft of the genetic code for breast and colon cancers. Their report, published online in the September 7 issue of Science Express, identifies close to 200 mutated genes, now linked to these cancers, most of which were not previously recognized as associated with tumor initiation, growth, spread or control.

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Reprogramming Biology

Visionary futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose remarkable ideas on technological progress have been an inspiration for Biosingularity blogs, have a wonderful concise article on biological advances in recent issue of Scientific American

As a scientist working on biological systems I fully agree and whole heartedly support Kurzweil's observations that: " Biology is now in the early stages of an historic transition to an information science, while also gaining the tools to reprogram the ancient information systems of life ….. We are now beginning to understand biology as a set of information processes, and we're developing realistic models and simulations of how the processes involved in disease and aging progress. Moreover, we are developing the tools to reprogram them."

In the article Kurzweil predicts that tinkering with our genetic programs will extend human lifespan beyond the current limits. He also reiterates that biological systems are also subject to the "law of accelerating returns", which had tremendous impact on information technologies. Indeed, the cost of sequencing and synthesizing gene base pairs have decreased more than 10,000 fold over the last 15 years, and this exponential progress is currently accelerating as predicted by Kurzweil in his recent book. 

Read rest of the article at Scientific American web site.
 

Cells use mix-and-match approach to tailor regulation of genes

Scientists eager to help develop a new generation of pharmaceuticals are studying cellular proteins called transcription factors, which bind to upstream sequences of genes to turn the expression of those genes on or off. Some pharmaceutical companies are also hoping to develop drugs that selectively block the binding of transcription factors as a way to short-circuit the harmful effects of diseases.

Bioengineering researchers at UCSD and two research institutes in Germany report in the June 16 issue of PLoS Computational Biology that transcription factors act not only in isolation, but also in pairs, trios, and combinations of up to 13 to regulate distinct sets of genes.

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