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A thousand new human genes
By Adam Marcus

A novel comparison of mouse and human genetic sequences has revealed about a thousand previously unknown human genes. One is a relative of the gene for dystrophin, a muscle protein that is defective in people with muscular dystrophy. Other newly identified genes have been linked to the nervous system and drug metabolism.

Scientists have solid evidence demonstrating the existence of about 15,000 to 20,000 human genes. But computer analyses of the human genome sequence suggest that we have roughly 30,000 genes, and researchers are trying to verify the existence of the ones that haven't yet been identified.

"I think finding every single human gene is going to be hard, but these human-mouse comparisons should allow us to find a large fraction of those still unknown genes," says Roderic Guigó of the City Institute for Medical Research in Barcelona, Spain, and a member of the research team.

Tejvir Khurana, a muscular dystrophy researcher at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, says the new dystrophin-like gene joins three previously identified members of the same family.

Using mice, scientists are testing the hypothesis that increasing the activity of these genes could compensate for missing dystrophin in patients with muscular dystrophy, Khurana says.

It may be years, however, before researchers know if the newest gene has therapeutic potential. They must first determine if it behaves like dystrophin, or merely has a similar structure. If the functions prove similar, the researchers can synthesize the protein and study it in an animal model of muscular dystrophy.

See related GNN article
»Humans and mice together at last

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Guigó, R. et al. Comparison of mouse and human genomes followed by experimental verification yields an estimated 1,019 additional genes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA Published online January 27, 2003.

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