QUIRKY SCIENCE | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 30, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 30, 2016

QUIRKY SCIENCE

Genetic Writing of Cellular Life

The new map breaks away from the old way of studying genes one at a time, showing how genes interact in groups to shed light on the genetic roots of diseases. Researchers at the University of Toronto's Donnelly Centre have created the first map that shows the global genetic interaction network of a cell. It begins to explain how thousands of genes coordinate with one another to orchestrate cellular life.

The study was led by U of T Professors Brenda Andrews and Charles Boone, and Professor Chad Myers of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. It opens the door to a new way of exploring how genes contribute to disease with a potential for developing finely-tuned therapies. The findings are published in the journal Science. "We've created a reference guide for how to chart genetic interactions in a cell," said Michael Costanzo, a research associate in the Boone lab and one of the researchers who spearheaded the study. "We can now tell what kind of properties to look for in searching for highly connected genes in human genetic networks with the potential to impact genetic diseases."

The study took 15 years to complete and adds to Andrews' rich scientific legacy for which she was awarded a Companion of the Order of Canada. Just as societies in the world are organised from countries down to local communities, the genes in cells operate in hierarchical networks to organise cellular life. Researchers believe that if we are to understand what 20,000 human genes do, we must first find out how they are connected to each other. Studies in yeast cells first showed the need to look farther than a gene's individual effect to understand its role. With 6,000 genes, many of which are also found in humans, yeast cells are a relatively simple but powerful stand-ins for human cells.

Murder of The Ice Man

The copper used to make Ötzi's axe blade did not come from the Alpine region as had previously been supposed, but from ore mined in southern Tuscany. Ötzi was probably not involved in working the metal himself, as the high levels of arsenic and copper found in his hair had, until now, led us to assume. His murder over 5,000 years ago seems to have been brought about due to a personal conflict a few days before his demise, and the man from the ice, despite his normal weight and active life-style, suffered from extensive vascular calcification. Scientists from all over the world presented these and other new insights, at the recent International Mummy Congress in Bozen-Bolzano. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ötzi's discovery, the three days of the Congress, from 19th to 21st September, are all dedicated to the man from the ice.

Since the man from the ice came on the scene on 19th September 1991, he has not ceased to fascinate scientists from all over the world. No corpse has been more thoroughly investigated. "In terms of his significance for science, Ötzi is not simply an isolated mummy discovery. He could be seen as a typical European from earlier times and is precious for this reason alone," explained the anthropologist Albert Zink from EURAC Research, the scientific leader of the congress. "Ötzi is so well preserved as a glacier mummy and through this alone, he serves us researchers as a model for developing scientific methods which can then be used on other mummies," said Zink. "What concerns us most these days is to know who the man from the ice was, what role he played in society and what happened to him in the last days of his life. Sophisticated procedures, now available to scientists, are continually supplying us with new evidence," said Angelika Fleckinger, Director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology which helped to organise the Congress.

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