"Facebook" for genes

New procedure reveals how genes work together

Genes are located on the genetic material in the nucleus, in this photo the cell nuclei are stained red. German Cancer Research Center
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Scientists have developed a new method by which they decode the interaction of genes. Different genes can mutually reinforce, weaken or even completely neutralize their effects. The way in which this happens is similar to the way in which the "Facebook" Internet platform proposes new friends to users.

The researchers around Michael Boutros from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Wolfgang Huber from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg now present their results in the online edition of the journal "Nature Methods".

Reveal combination effects

Many genes occur in different people in different variants. To discover those variants that increase the risk of a particular disease, scientists compare the genes of patients with those of healthy controls.

However, these studies often fail to yield clear results: the effect of certain genotype variants often depends on whether other genes are affected as well. Only the interaction of different genes has consequences. The method now presented by Boutros and Huber can reveal these combination effects.

"Friends list" created for genes

With the so-called RNA interference they switched off genes individually and in all pairwise combinations. By systematically cataloging all interactions between important signal molecules, the researchers obtained a detailed list of interaction partners for each gene, comparable to a "friend list" in the social network "Facebook". display

"If two Facebook users have the same friends, it's very likely that they'll know each other - even if they're not 'Facebook friends' themselves, " explains Boutros. "Applied to the situation in the genome, one can predict by comparing their interactions which genes perform a common function."

Soon better cancer therapies?

Boutros, Huber and their colleagues can now suggest "friends", genes that influence their effects. For example, the researchers discovered in their experiments a previously unknown component of the RAS signaling pathway that plays an important role in the development of cancer.

According to the scientists, this new method could therefore help to find new components of cancer-relevant signal chains and thus possible targets for better cancer therapies. (Nature Methods, 2011; doi: 10.1038 / nmeth.1581.)

(German Cancer Research Center, 08.03.2011 - DLO)