LONDON (TIP): Understanding the most complex human organ — the brain, has now become a lot simpler. In a major breakthrough, scientists at Berkeley Lab has made it possible to get a front row view into how the brain develops and functions and pinpoint which part of the organ is playing truant during neurological disorders like autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia.
The scientists have created the world’s fi rst genome-wide digital atlas of gene enhancers in the brain — the switches that tell genes when and where they need to be switched on or off.
This atlas completely documents the cerebrum — the region that is of critical importance for cognition, motor functions and emotion identifies and locates thousands of gene-regulating elements which are the underlying causes of neurological disorders. Axel Visel, a geneticist with Berkeley Lab’s genomics division says, ‘Understanding how the brain functions and malfunctions in neurological disorders, remains one of the most daunting challenges in contemporary science. We’ve created a digital atlas of gene enhancers in the human brain.
This atlas will enable other scientists to study in more detail how individual genes are regulated during development of the brain and how genetic mutations may impact human neurological disorders.” Visel added, ‘Enhancers are short pieces of DNA in the human genome — they are not actual genes, so they do not give rise to proteins. Instead, they are switches that tell the actual genes when to become active and make a protein. Each cell type in our body has different sets of these enhancers switched on or off, and collectively they help to orchestrate the activities of our 20,000 genes in each single cell.”