Scientists have discovered a network of genes and genetic regulatory elements in the lining of the intestines that has stayed remarkably the same from fishes to humans. Many of these genes are linked to human illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, diabetes, and obesity. The findings, which were published online on August 29, 2017 in PLOS Biology, establish the fish as an experimental platform for studying how this ancient genetic information -- distilled over 420 million years of evolution -- controls the development and dysfunction of the intestine. "Our research has uncovered aspects of intestinal biology that have been well-conserved during vertebrate evolution, suggesting they are of central importance to intestinal health," said John F. Rawls, PhD, senior author of the study and Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University School of Medicine. "By doing so, we have built a foundation for mechanistic studies of intestinal biology in non-human model systems like fish and mice that would be impossible to perform in humans alone." The open-access PLOS Biology article is titled “"Genomic Dissection of Conserved Transcriptional Regulation in Intestinal Epithelial Cells." The intestine serves a variety of important functions that are common to all vertebrates. It takes up nutrients, stimulates the immune system, processes toxins and drugs, and provides a critical barrier to microorganisms. Defects in the intestinal epithelial cells lining the intestine have been implicated in a growing number of ailments, including inflammatory bowel diseases, colorectal cancer, food allergy, diabetes, obesity, malnutrition, and infectious diarrheas.
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