Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Brain Health Fair, Gene Mapping, and Toll Receptors

Here is a flyer for the American Academy of Neurology's "Brain Health Fair" coming up in April. A bit off of the normal track for this blog, or maybe not. Given our extremely complex biological systems (compliments to our DNA), it is always a wonder to me that we work and think for as long as we do as well as we do.

Interestingly, one of the questions I was asked during volunteer training was, "How do scientists know what parts of the genetic code (DNA strand) to look at to do their studies? Especially if we do not know what much of it does in the body (if anything)?"

I was in a seminar just yesterday that talked about this. You have all heard the quote that we share 95% of our DNA with chimps, or some similar value for mice, etc. These figures are rather misleading, but the point is that we are all connected via the evolution of life. All the way down to microbes.

So, researchers working with fruit flies...(much simpler to work with than humans) were able to show that a particular part of their DNA coded for an immune response (for the fruit fly, an anti-fungal defense). A check for similar areas in the human genome turned up similar genes also coding for use by our immune system (although no longer anti-fungal). Then a further study showed a mutation in one of these areas was related to Crohn's Syndrome (a genetic linked disorder).

So to find the areas of the DNA that are very functional and important in humans, researchers can first look at much simpler animals. We share the history. The areas that work tend to be kept or conserved (even if altered slightly). There is a feedback loop here relating to survival - good stuff does not easily get pitched out - it gets saved.

Now, back to the brain fair... it is not surprising that genetic links are coming in for neurological disorders. We can hope that useful treatments will follow! Maybe our biologically simpler evolutionary relatives will lead the way for our research - fruit flies for brain research?! Click back to a previous post that had a beautiful picture of a fruitfly brainbow (like a rainbow), for further info.



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