Researchers have assembled a database of genes about which we know very little in order to improve our grasp of our genetic blueprints.
We are aware that these genes exist and that they produce proteins, but we are unsure of their function.
Researchers from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in the UK explain, “It has become apparent that scientific research tends to focus on well-studied proteins, leading to a concern that poorly understood genes are unjustifiably neglected.”
We created a freely accessible and adaptable “Unknome database” to address this.
It has been 20 years since the first tentative version of the human genome sequence, which contained tens of thousands of genes, was made public.
With cutting-edge methods like CRISPR, we have learned a tremendous amount since then, yet tens of thousands of these genes continue to be a mystery.
Scientists have ignored these genes for a variety of reasons, as molecular scientist Joo Rocha and colleagues explain.
They include a greater bias in funding and peer-reviewed systems to favor research on genes with already established clinical value or genes that are more prevalent or abundant across laboratory animals.
The protein genes for humans and other commonly researched species in lab settings are ranked by how little is known about them in the Unknome database.
The researchers then selected 260 of our genes that were also present in the genome of the laboratory fly, Drosophila, which was classed as extremely unknown in the database, to show how this database might be used.
In growing flies, they systematically eliminated the common genes. Since many of the flies perished, it is clear that the proteins each of these genes codes for are essential for animal biology.
“These uncharacterized genes have not deserved their neglect,” claims molecular scientist Sean Munro.
The scientists were able to ascertain some of the roles of the genes by eliminating their expression from specific tissues of the flies but not from others. Several of the genes linked to male fertility, growth, and stress reactions.
The team claims that by identifying instances where questions are being unintentionally and unfairly overlooked, scientific advancement could be sped up.
Now that Rocha and colleagues have pointed out those unanswered mysteries in the human genome, it is up to researchers all over the world to help hasten this development.
According to Munroe, “Our database offers a powerful, adaptable, and effective platform to identify and select key genes with unknown functions for analysis, thereby accelerating the filling of the biological knowledge gap that the unknome represents.”
This research was published in PLoS Biology.