Health’s ‘hidden’ genome

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A CAFÉ Scientifique talk took place at the Acorn Centre earlier this week in which Dr Alasdair MacKenzie, a geneticist at the University of Aberdeen, spoke about ‘Health’s Hidden Genome’.

He explained that only two per cent of the human genome are genes which are sequences of DNA that make proteins. He said: “That’s the stuff that makes us”.

Conditions such as obesity, depression and inflammatory pain will affect a significant proportion of people at some time in their lives and they are on the rise.

Scientists have found that susceptibility to these conditions can be genetically determined and they have spent the last 30 years looking for the genes responsible with relatively little success.

Thanks to the sequencing of the human genome - the genetic make-up of the body -geneticists are now using powerful and pioneering techniques to compare the genes of people with certain conditions with the genes of those free of these problems.

Researchers have been surprised to find that nearly 90 per cent of these differences linked to disease occur in parts of the genome that are not actually genes.

Dr MacKenzie continued: “For the last 30 years the DNA between our genes was considered to be useless “junk” DNA. However recent developments seem to contradict this belief.

“New techniques, many of them developed at the University of Aberdeen, suggest that the so called “non-coding genome” that does not make protein, contains a vast and nearly completely unknown information source, whose role is only starting to be revealed in health and disease.”