New Gene Identification Technique Developed

A new method of gene identification that could increase the genetic information scientists hold on animals by up to 80 per cent has been discovered by a team of British researchers.

The new method of gene identification could revolutionize our understanding of animal genetics and disease, and improve our knowledge of dangerous viruses such as Influenza and SARS that jump the species barrier from animals to humans. This image shows Influenza A virus subtype H1N1

Genome sequencing is a process of determining the genetic information and variation controlling everything from our eye color to our vulnerability to certain diseases. Until now, correctly identifying the genes and proteins hidden inside the genetic material of a newly sequenced species has been an undertaking requiring the careful observation and cataloguing of vast amounts of data about the thousands of individual genes that make up any given animal, plant or insect.

The team, led by Dr David Matthews of the University of Bristol’s School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, has now discovered a more effective way of detecting the genetic information present in animals, plants and insects using cutting-edge analysis tools to directly observe the genes and all the proteins they make.

“Gene identification is mainly led by computer programmes which search the genome for regions that look like genes already identified in other animals or humans. However, this type of analysis is not always effective,” Dr Matthews said.

To prove the method worked, Dr Matthews’ team conducted an experiment to see how good their process was at gene discovery. Human cells were infected with a well-understood common cold bug to mimic a newly discovered virus. These infected cells were then analyzed using the technique as if they were cells from a newly sequenced organism infected with a newly discovered virus.

The resulting list of identified genes and proteins, when compared to the genetic information already known about humans and cold virus, proved extremely successful and demonstrated the power of this method. The findings appear in a paper published in the journal Nature Methods.

“These findings open up the potential to take powerful analysis tools currently used to study human diseases and apply them to study any animal, insect or even plants – something previously either very challenging or simply not possible. This technique will also make it easier and much more efficient for scientists to study anything from farm animals and their diseases to insect pests that damage crops,” Dr Matthews explained.


Bibliographic information: Vanessa C Evans et al. De novo derivation of proteomes from transcriptomes for transcript and protein identification. Nature Methods, published online 11 November 2012; doi: 10.1038/nmeth.2227