Exploration of uncharted territories within the human genome.
The human genome contains over 3 billion base pairs. Every single cell in the human body contains a copy of the entire human genome. Different cell-types have different gene expression profiles (different sets of genes are turned on or off in different cells). Individual genes encode proteins, which are the biomolecular building blocks of life. The Human Genome Project sequenced the entire human genome and found that there are approximately 22,000 protein-coding genes. Surprisingly, only 1% of the entire genome actually contains protein-coding genes, despite the vast complexity of the human body. Without any apparent function, the remaining 99% has predominantly been assumed to be “junk” DNA. However, recent research has demonstrated that a significant portion of this “junk” DNA is directly involved in controlling cellular functions and regulating gene activity. The discovery of these functional elements in what was once thought to be “junk” DNA opens up a new avenue into genetic research. By investigating this vastly unexplored portion of the genome we can discover new elements that are linked to protecting cells and tissues from damage and disease, paving the way for new therapies. STEM Biomedical is using bioinformatic methods for in-depth data collection and analysis of these regions from both healthy and diseased populations as well as long-lived and short-lived organisms. This exploration of what was previously thought to be “junk” DNA will lead to the discovery of important genetic elements involved in health and longevity.
Molecular graphics and analyses performed with UCSF Chimera, developed by the Resource for Biocomputing, Visualization, and Informatics at the University of California, San Francisco, with support from NIH P41-GM103311. UCSF Chimera--a visualization system for exploratory research and analysis. Pettersen EF, Goddard TD, Huang CC, Couch GS, Greenblatt DM, Meng EC, Ferrin TE. J Comput Chem. 2004 Oct;25(13):1605-12.