Are tracts of DNA lacking genes junk or useful

Gene deserts

Published: Monday 31 January 2005

themystery of life lies locked in the double helix structure of the deoxyribonucleic acid (dna) that contains the genes. But large tracts of dna lack genes. Such regions -- accounting for almost 80 per cent of dna -- were once thought to have no biological function, but a team of us scientists has now found that the 'gene deserts' play a vital role in regulating gene activity.

The team led by Ivan Ovcharenko of the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found gene deserts were of two types: those that remain stable throughout eons of evolution and those that vary significantly. It found evidence to show the stable desert regions are able to resist genomic rearrangement of junk dna .

The variable regions, on the other hand -- which make up about two-thirds of the gene deserts -- "can be devoid of biological function," suggesting that a significant fraction of the genome may not be essential. "This is very important for researchers looking for mutations leading to diseases because it highlights large areas of the genome that are not likely to be involved in causing diseases," Ovcharenko said.

These findings appeared in the January issue of Genome Research.

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