Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, have developed a new method for studying gene regulation, by employing a jumping gene as an informant. Described online on March 21, 2011, in Nature Genetics, the new method is called GROMIT. It enables researchers to systematically explore the very large part of our genome that does not code for proteins, and which likely plays a large role in making each of us unique, by controlling when, where, and to what extent genes are expressed. Thanks to GROMIT, scientists can also create mouse models for human diseases such as Down syndrome. "Our findings change how we think about gene regulation, and about how differences between individual genomes could lead to disease," said Dr. François Spitz from EMBL, who led the study. Until now, scientists thought that regulatory elements essentially controlled a specific gene or group of genes. With GROMIT, Spitz and colleagues discovered that the genome is not organized in such a gene-centric manner. Instead, it appears that each regulatory element can potentially control whatever is within its reach. This means that mutations that simply shuffle genetic elements around (without deleting or altering them) can have striking effects, by bringing genes into or out of specific regulators' zones of influence. The EMBL scientists also discovered that many of these regulatory elements act in specific tissues, which suggests that the expression levels of every gene, even those that are active all over the body, are fine-tuned at the tissue level. Jumping genes – or transposons – are sequences of DNA that can move from place to place within a cell's genome. This can have detrimental effects, for example if this extra genetic material is inserted into an important gene, disrupting it. But Dr.
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