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Joint east-west genomics teamwork

Applied genomics is one of the most exciting 'new generation' sciences and is making a substantial contribution to medicine, biotechnology and unexpected areas such as anthropology. Collaboration between genomics experts from Europe and Japan is creating synergy in projects such as evolution of disease-causing microbes.

Health

Retrogenes are, as the word suggests, backwards genes. When genes are transcribed into RNA, the next normal step is translation into a protein. However, sometimes a biochemical mix-up means the RNA is reverse transcribed and slots back into the DNA, only now in a different position with a new promoter code that can kick off protein production. This could mean a new gene with a brand new function, a possible step in evolution. Retrogenes are the main focus of the EU-funded project EVOLGEN (Genome sciences - Evolutionary and functional perspective). Other subjects covered include introns – bits of a gene that aren't transcribed but feature in complex regulation such as the production of multiple proteins from a single gene. Milestones so far in the project include the RetrogeneDB database with information on more than 600 000 retrogenes in 62 animal genomes. High up on the agenda of an evolutionist is the jump from one cell to the multicellular, and EVOLGEN research has scanned two algae genomes for retrogenes to find clues as to how this came about. EVOLGEN researchers have also discovered a large number of previously unknown twintrons – introns within introns – in U12-type introns. A comparative analysis has been compiled of the transcriptomes of the highly diversified single cell amoeba – from parasite of human brains to the classroom favourite living in freshwater and dining on other unicellular animals. The research toolkit involved the newest sequencing technology, the Oxford Nanopore DNA sequencing, for genotyping parasites of tropical diseases. As many of these diseases occur in Indonesia, the scientists developed a special analysis pipeline easily accessible through a web browser. EVOLGEN collaborative research features in 11 peer-review journals as well as a number of presentations at international conferences. Impact of the EVOLGEN research promises to be wide, affecting the basic biochemistry of many diseases as well as microbes potentially important in biotech production. Collaboration between European and Japanese labs means that many of tomorrow's researchers have gained global research experience.

Keywords

Genomics, collaboration, disease, evolution, retrogenes, introns

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