Big data: It's a term we read and hear about often, but is hard to grasp. Computer scientists at Washington University in St. Louis' (WUSL) School of Engineering & Applied Science tackled some big data about an important protein and discovered its connection in human history as well as clues about its possible role in complex neurological diseases. Through a novel method of analyzing these big data, Sharlee Climer, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor in Computer Science, and Weixiong Zhang, Ph.D., Professor of Computer Science and of Genetics at the School of Medicine, discovered a region encompassing the gephyrin gene on chromosome 14 that underwent rapid evolution after splitting in two completely opposite directions thousands of years ago. Those opposite directions, known as yin and yang, are still strongly evident across different populations of people around the world today. The results of the research, carried out together with Alan Templeton, Ph.D., the Charles Rebstock Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biology in the College of Arts & Sciences at WUSL, was published online on March 27, 2015 in Nature Communications. The article is titled “Human Gephyrin Is Encompassed within Giant Functional Noncoding Yin-Yang Sequences.” The gephyrin protein is a master regulator of receptors in the brain that transmit messages. Malfunction of the protein has been associated with epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and other neurological diseases. Additionally, without gephyrin, our bodies are unable to synthesize an essential trace nutrient (molybdenum co-factor).
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