Remember the 1986 American science fiction horror film Fly and how a horrible mistake by the computer during teleportation merged the main character, an eccentric scientist with the fly at the molecular-genetic level.
However recent research has revealed that humans are closer to a Fly DNA than normally perceived.
Scientists have published three major papers which map and compare the genomes and epigenomes of humans with the fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and the worm, Caenorhabditis elegans.
The genome is passed from our parents but the epigenome could be altered by environmental exposure and events which have taken in the life of our parents and even grandparents. The epigenome expresses itself as chemical tags on our DNA and determines which genes are dominant and which are silenced.
This is very exciting news because it will now be possible for us to diagnose and treat diseases caused by the deregulation of gene expression. Such disease could include chronic diseases Alzheimer’s, and Diabetes and even cancer.
The scientists are looking at epigenetic marks on the Chromatin in selected cell lines and developmental stages of the fly. The researchers are also checking neurological diseases which are caused by a series of nucleotides repeated numerous times in an array also known as triplet repeats. One such repeats happens in the non coding part of the gene which makes a protein called Fraxtin. In normal persons triplet repeats up to 60 times, but can trigger a process which can silence the gene. Defficiency of Frataxin causes a disease known as Friedreich’s ataxia which is characterized by incapacitating effects on coordination.
Sarah C. R. Elgin, the Viktor Hamburger Professor of Arts & Sciences and professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis said, “What seems to be happening is that the epigenetic machinery, identifying the repeats as disruptive or aberrant DNA, tries to silence them, and ends up silencing the gene.”
The latest findings once again bring into fore how little we know about the genetic structures and its role in diseases.