A breakthrough in research by geneticists working in Trinity College Dublin have uncovered a faster way of identifying genes related to autism and epilepsy.
The new method involves looking at the evolution of genes over a period of time and pinpointing their relation to a disease. This could create the opportunity for the development of new treatments for conditions that are tough to treat.
The research, led by Professor Aoife McLyghsat, was funded by the European Research Council. It was aimed at neurological disorders and studying how disease-related DNA evolved over time.
In humans, DNA can make deletions or copies of itself and the geneticists at TCD looked at these occurrences around the genes. They discovered that the copies and deletions around disease-related genes formed a pattern, they tended to be longer and fewer.
“Too much or too little duplication” were what the researchers were looking for, said Professor McLyghsat, to the Irish Times.
According to her, the idea is that there is a ‘Goldilocks’ region around these genes, where a number of copies has to be “just right.”
They looked through the evolution of genes throughout history and searched for ones that had little change.
This research showed that compared to genes that had no relation to neurological disorders, genes that did had a lot less variation around them.
Professor McLyghsat said that this discovery will “also allow us to home in on a short list of genes as candidates for the diseases in question.”
This could make it easier to identify genes associated with certain developmental conditions.
The concept of looking back at the evolution of our genes could also be helpful for understanding human disease, she said.
The team’s findings have been published in Nature Communications, a journal that publishes high-quality research in biology.