How Genes Can Turn On and Off

Scientists have recently made a new discovery on the way that genes are able to activate and deactivate at certain times. Genes are an important part of how the human body functions, as it decides how things should work and how they should appear. 

Laura Haughney, a researcher from Florida State University, says this about the significance of genetics. Human bodies have roughly 30,000 genes dictating not only how we look, but also critical biological processes.

Researchers, including Haughney, from Florida State University as well as those from Australia National University, have made a breakthrough that provides us a deeper understanding about the qualities of genes, and what it means for cancerous diseases. 

Johnathan Dennis from FSU and David Tremethick from Australia National University were able to learn more about a gene’s controlling region, which dictates whether the gene is active or not. The region is created in a way that proteins attach to it to turn the gene on or off.

However, Dennis explains how there are health risks involved with this process. “When the wrong thing binds, you get inappropriate physiology, in some cases, cancer,” he said. 

The researchers found that a protein called H2A.Z is the key component in this process, as it regulates the packaging of genes. They have discovered that this protein’s role is to make sure that proper regulatory factors have correct access to different gene promoters.

“H2A.Z is a type of protein called a histone variant,” said Lauren Cole, a former FSU doctoral student and the first author on the paper. “Because histone variants play an important role in gene regulation, this work leads to an expanded understanding of the human genome.”

David Tremethick says that there is much more work to be done to fully understand the human genome. “Although it has been nearly 20 years since the human genome was sequenced, how this genomic information is selectively utilized to direct patterns of gene expression underpinning cell fate decisions still remains poorly understood,” Tremethick said. “While there is still much work to be done, our study will help move the field forward to get a better understanding of how our genes are expressed at the right time and place, which has critical implications for human health.”

Having a better understanding of how and when genes are activated allows us to foresee future problems for human health, as well as give us hope to fix current problems. The future of the genome is now in the palms of our hands.


Categories: Society