Follow that fosmid: more groundbreaking genetics research

Posted by mjs76 at Jun 30, 2010 01:55 PM |
Paper in Cell rewrites our understanding of ‘copy and paste’ DNA.

When an editorial in Cell (one of the ‘big three’ journals in biological sciences) describes your research as “incredible”, you know you’ve found something groundbreaking. The latest issue of that august tome has three papers all looking at different aspects of L-1 retrotransposons, and the one with “incredible” results was co-authored by Dr Richard Badge from our Department of Genetics.

L-1 whatnows?

An L-1 (or LINE-1) retrotransposon is a piece of DNA which is capable of ‘copy-and-pasting’ itself into different parts of the genome. As such, L-1s are relevant to both evolutionary diversity and to genetic diseases. And it has always been thought that these things were pretty rare.

Dr Badge and his colleagues used short loops of DNA called fosmids, which contain human DNA but can be easily transported inside bacteria. The DNA strand inside a fosmid is always a known, fixed length (about 40kB of information) so the two ends of the equivalent strand in a genome are a fixed distance apart – unless a retrotransposon has sneaked in there.

By using this innovative technique, the researchers found that L-1s are actually pretty common. It’s just that any individual L-1 is rare. It’s a bit like searching the phone book for addresses: if you’re looking for any particular street, you’ll be there all day - but  it’s actually very common for people to live on ‘a street’.