Rensselaer Research ReviewWinter 2008
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 DNA Studies Helps Pinpoint Genetic Variations in European Americans; Provide New Clues About Inelegant Worms
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Various DNA studies performed on campus have yielded some promising results. In the first study, computer scientists isolated genetic ancestral clues based on a method that is purely computational. The second study discovered that the gene unc-85 significantly impacted DNA replication in the nervous system.

New Research Could Help Isolate Genetic Basis for Disease, Population Variation

An international team of researchers has identified just 200 positions within the curves of the DNA helix that they believe capture much of the genetic diversity in European Americans, a population with one of the most diverse and complex historic origins on Earth. Their findings narrow the search for the elusive ancestral clues known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, that cause disease and account for the minute variations in the European American population.

“With this study, we looked at a very large population to determine how each individual could be stratified based on his or her DNA,” said Petros Drineas, assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and one of the two lead authors of the study. The researchers can now begin to analyze each SNP to understand the possible biological significance of those genetic, ancestral differences. 

The research, which was published in the July 2008 edition of PLoS Genetics, requires no previous personal history. The other lead author of the study is Peristera Paschou of the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece. 

Purpose of the Study

The researchers plan to use the data to determine if any of the approximately 200 ancestry informative SNPs that they have identified change the way the body develops. “We want to see if the SNPs tied to a specific ancestry hold any biological significance to populations of different origins. We want to see if the SNPs that we isolated are related to natural selection and adaptation, for example to the weather conditions of different regions,” Drineas said. To help do so, the research team will move from the computer lab to the biology lab for further study. 

In addition, the researchers hope that their findings will help narrow down the search for those SNPs that cause disease, according to Drineas. 

Our genes are being increasingly linked to our susceptibility to certain diseases. Today, scientists are on the prowl to isolate and understand these “weakest links” in our DNA. With the discovery of each tiny SNP that is linked to specific diseases, researchers come closer to understanding our predisposition to certain diseases, as well as to developing cures.

However, SNPs linked to disease account for only a minuscule fraction of the estimated 10 million SNPs found in the human genome. Scientists have made great strides to narrow down the genetic playfield to just the genetic variations that cause disease, but other minor genetic variations like ancestry are only recently being accounted for. With this study, researchers will be able to quickly and inexpensively identify the genes linked to ancestry and unrelated to disease, and remove many of them from contention as causes of disease, thus greatly narrowing the search. 

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“DNA Studies Helps Pinpoint Genetic Variations in European Americans
Provide New Clues About Inelegant Worms”
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