GENE LIKELY TRIGGER FOR INHERITED PARKINSON'S
New research has pinpointed how a mutant gene may start a cascade of events leading to an inherited form of Parkinson's. Investigators at Columbia University Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied a mutant form of the alpha-synuclein gene, one of four genes known to be implicated in a form of Parkinson's disease. They found the mutant gene binds to protein disposal sites within dopamine neurons, leading to neuronal death. The lead researcher compared the situation to a garbage truck stalling at the entrance to the town dump. "If the truck breaks down right in front of the dump, not only does it fail to deliver its own garbage to the dump, but it blocks all the other garbage trucks and the town fills up with garbage." The researchers predict the discovery will aid in the development of new treatments for this form of Parkinson's disease, as well as possibly shed more light on the cause of the more common non-inherited form of the disease. This study is published in the Aug. 27 issue of Science.
BIOLOGICAL PACEMAKER IN DEVELOPMENT
A new collaboration may lead to a better understanding of how genetically engineered cells can help pace the heart. Guidant Corp. of Indianapolis is partnering with Columbia University and Stony Brook University to develop a biological pacemaker based on research done at the two universities. The research teams demonstrated that adult human mesenchymal stem cells can be genetically engineered to express a specific gene responsible for the normal pacemaker function of heart cells. When placed in a specific region of the heart, these cells form linkages permitting direct communication with the heart muscle cells. The announcement was made Aug. 26.
COMMUNITY SEQUENCING PROGRAM PORTFOLIO ANNOUNCED
The Community Sequencing Program has announced the latest group of organisms that will have their DNA decoded by CSP. The CSP selections, announced by the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, place a heavy emphasis on microbes. "The CSP selections represent a rich collection of microorganisms as well as higher plants and animals that inhabit both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. By making JGI's powerful resources available to non-traditional end-users of sequence through CSP we hope to advance knowledge across such vital topics as alternative energy production and bioremediation, and to address important questions of evolution and development," said the JGI director. A total of 23 projects were selected from over 60 submissions. Selected organisms include a moss, a leech, and the alga responsible for the phenomenon known as "red tide." The JGI announced the CSP selections Aug. 24.
SEXUAL STAYING POWER MAY BE IN THE GENES
In flies at least, sexual stamina has been linked to the action of two clock genes. While studying fecundity in flies, Oregon State University researchers found mutations in the clock genes "period" and "timeless" caused male flies to copulate 30 percent to 50 percent longer than usual. Further research showed that it was the male fly who determined how long to continue the mating process and when to quit -- a decision clearly involving the clock genes. "This is the first report showing that selected clock genes are involved in timing behavioral events that are measured in minutes," said the lead researcher. "These genes probably have important regulatory functions in many other areas that we do not understand." The researchers believe further study of the clock genes is needed to understand how they are involved in regulating the length of behavioral acts and short-term time perception. The results of this study were published in the journal Current Biology on Aug. 23.
COMMON CONGENITAL BRAIN DISORDER LINKED TO TWO GENES
Researchers found the first genetic cause for one of the most common birth defects affecting the brain. University of Chicago scientists have linked the loss of one copy of each of two adjacent genes to Dandy-Walker malformation, a disorder that causes infants to be born with a small, misplaced cerebellum and other brain abnormalities. DWM can reduce coordination, impair mental function and cause hydrocephalus. The scientists used their discovery to create a mouse model to better study the developmental basis of the disorder. "This discovery provides one of the first real avenues for understanding human birth defects that affect the cerebellum. Until now, we have had no understanding of what goes wrong during development to cause this malformation," said one researcher. Although the researchers have definitively linked two genes to DWM, they caution that other genes are clearly involved in the disorder. This research was reported in the online edition of Nature Genetics on Aug. 22.
(EDITORS: For PARKINSON'S, contact Elizabeth Streich at (212) 305-6535 or email@example.com. For PACEMAKER, contact Annie Bayne at (212) 305-3900 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For COMMUNITY, contact David Gilbert at (925) 296-5643 or email@example.com. For SEX, contact Jaga Giebultwicz at (541) 737-5530 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For COMMON, contact John Easton at (883) 702-6241 or email@example.com)