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In each cell, thousands of regulatory regions control which genes are active at any time. Scientists at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna have developed a method that reliably detects these regions and measures their activity.
nformation on the new technology was just published online in the journal Science.

Genome sequences store the information about an organism's development in the DNA's four-letter alphabet. Genes carry the instruction for proteins, which are the building blocks of our bodies. However, genes make up only a minority of the entire genome sequence -- roughly two percent in humans. The remainder was once dismissed as "junk," mostly because its function remained elusive. "Dark matter" might be more appropriate, but gradually light is being shed on this part of the genome, too.

Far from being useless, the non-coding part of DNA contains so-called regulatory regions or enhancers that determine when and where each gene is expressed. This regulation ensures that each gene is only active in appropriate cell-types and tissues, e.g. hemoglobin in red blood cell precursors, digestive enzymes in the stomach, or ion channels in neurons. If gene regulation fails, cells express the wrong genes and acquire inappropriate functions such as the ability to divide and proliferate, leading to diseases such as cancer.

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