UA Study Suggests Some ‘Jumping Genes’ Not Sufficiently Locked Down

Published: Monday, September 23, 2019 - 5:05am
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Photo: Kelvin Pond.
Keith Maggert of the UA College of Medicine Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine and the UA Cancer Center.

A large proportion of the human genome contains potentially dangerous DNA sequences called transposable elements, or transposons. Now, research from the University of Arizona has found flaws in the mechanisms that keep them in check.

The study appears in the journal PNAS.

Transposons, sometimes called "jumping genes," can change their positions within a genome, causing errors and mutations linked to diseases such as cancers.

For protection, cells silence these elements using a dense material called heterochromatin.

But the UA team's research into fruit flies — and genes borrowed from yeast, jellyfish and coral — shows that this heterochromatin "seal" can fail and allow the jumping genes to be expressed.

"Now it turns out that it makes mistakes much more frequently than we thought. And it's good at covering its tracks, because it can recover. And so it doesn't leave much evidence of its failing," said co-author Keith Maggert of the UA College of Medicine Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine and the UA Cancer Center.

More research is needed to confirm connections between these failures and the emergence of diseases.

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