Friday, July 23, 2010

Dark Matter Between Genes Is Not Widespread

The activity of supposed 'dark matter' between the genes seems to be mostly noise from the genes themselves. NWO researcher Harm van Bakel researched RNA transcripts - particles of copied DNA - the function of which has been a mystery until now. He reached the conclusion that we need not assign any unexplained biological function to them. The results of his research were published by the open access journal PLoS BIOLOGY.

DNA provides instructions for the manufacture of proteins, which in turn make up our bodies. The DNA sends these instruction messages in the form of an RNA transcript. Over recent decades, however, researchers have discovered RNA transcripts that could not be traced back to the known genes and that had no demonstrable function. They compared this phenomenon with the ‘dark matter' in the universe: widespread, but with nobody actually knowing its function. Many biologists suspect that the uprooted RNA transcripts have an important biological function, which has simply eluded people until now. Harm van Bakel has shown that this is unlikely.

Two percent of origins unknown
Harm van Bakel combined two measurement methods to find out where the odd RNA transcripts had come from. He used DNA chips and DNA sequence analysis. The latter method allowed Van Bakel to chart the origins of millions of fragments of transcripts. It turned out that 98% of the RNA transcripts actually came from known genes. The majority of the remaining 2% came from the vicinity of a known gene. The 'dark matter transcripts' are not, therefore, new signs of a hitherto hidden universe within the genome, but are probably simply the result of the noise associated with active genetic processes.
The fact that most of the 'dark matter transcripts' are the result of the activity of known genes also provides a new understanding of how the genome operates. It appears that the machinery responsible for gene expression is not as meticulous as it could be. Van Bakel's article can be consulted free of charge on the website of PLoS BIOLOGY.

Rubicon
The young researcher performed his research at the University of Toronto. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) financed his two-year residence at the Canadian university. Harm van Bakel was awarded a Rubicon Grant by NWO in 2006. Dutch researchers who have recently gained their doctorates can gain research experience in other countries using Rubicon.

Sources and contacts:
NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) News Release
Laan van Nieuw Oost Indië 300, 2593 CE Den Haag, Netherlands
070-3440640
070-3850971
nwo@nwo.nl
http://www.nwo.nl/

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