Results of NASA scientists' recent research on human DNA are enhancing our knowledge about human genetics and may help us to better understand human diseases.
Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, Calif., in collaboration with scientists from Yale University, New Haven, Conn., designed a complete map of all gene activities in human tissue.
"As a result of this research, we have a more comprehensive view of human gene activity. This will enable scientists to better understand gene responses to space flight and help NASA ensure astronauts' well being during long duration space flights or exploring the moon and Mars," said Dr. Viktor Stolc, director of the Genome Research Facility at Ames.
Using advanced technology, researchers attached short pieces of DNA that recognized sequences in the human genetic blueprint, called the genome, to specially patterned glass slides. These slide arrays were used to measure levels of ribonucleic acid (RNA), biochemical copies of the DNA produced when genes are activated to make proteins. Researchers used high-resolution imaging technology to look at human genome to see previously unknown and unmapped activities.
"In our previous work, we mapped the genome of a fruit fly, which is a model organism for biological processes," Stolc said. "Now, we are making an essential step towards understanding human illness by mapping out the complete human genome activity. We discovered many DNA sequences, originally counted as non-functioning segments, actually do encode active genes. These findings are going to allow us to dissect human diseases and help us find new treatments," he said.
Based on a pilot experiment that studied the genome of a fruit fly, the method used by Stolc and Michael Snyder of Yale proved successful, even on human DNA sequences that are much longer and more complex. "We had to overcome bioinformatics challenges, but at the end we were rewarded with a comprehensive picture of human tissue DNA," Stolc said.
Stolc's findings were published recently in the journal Science. This research was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the NASA's Ames Genome Research Facility in collaboration with Yale University.
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