U of MN researchers find novel genes critical in organ development

December 20, 2006

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have identified a group of novel genes that are critical in organ development.

The scientists studied the roles of genes in the zebrafish secretome. This group of genes makes proteins that are located on the surface or outside of cells in the body, and are responsible for directing "patterning" in the body, or ensuring that cells divide, differentiate and migrate to properly form vital organs in the correct places during development.

The research is published online in the current issue of the Public Library of Science journal ONE.

Using a technique developed at the University in 2000 that allowed them to knock down, or turn off, specific genes, the researchers identified new genes that are implicated in the development of different systems and processes, such as blood and blood vessel development, formation of the eyes and ears, and metabolism of lipids, or fats.

In addition, instead of just examining what happens with one specific gene if it is turned on or off, they were able to directly compare the effects of removing different genes on organ formation and function.

"The different gene phenotypes found in the collection give us a new level of resolution for how these organs develop," said Stephen Ekker, Ph.D., associate professor of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and lead author on the international multi-institutional study that includes scientists from the Max-Planck Institute of Immunology in Freiburg, Germany, and the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Baltimore, Maryland.

For this particular journal article, they examined 150 genes, and they will continue to work their way through all 4,000 that make up the secretome.

Zebrafish are a good model for studying how the vascular system develops. They study genes that are "conserved" between zebrafish and humans. This means the genes exist and have the same function in both zebrafish and humans.

University of Minnesota

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