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"Gene Home" -- The Discovery Files

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Using a new mapping strategy, a collaborative team led by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and MIT has begun to assign meaning to the regions beyond our genes and has revealed how minute changes in these regions might be connected to common diseases.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Reaching Beyond Our Genes.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

They call it the genome. But only a tiny percent of it is actually genes. On top of our genetic code is a layer of chemical information called the epigenome (ep-ih-jee-nome). It helps determine when, and in what specific types of cells, particular genes will be active. It's here where a team of researchers at MIT, Harvard, and Massachusetts General Hospital are focusing their efforts.

The epigenome consists of chemical modifications or "chromatin marks" (kro-muh-tin) along different stretches of the A's, C's, T's and G's that make up our DNA. The marks appear across genes in every cell, but can differ dramatically between cell types.

The research team mapped those chemical marks in nine different kinds of cells, from blood and skin cells to liver cancer cells. They looked at where they were located and how they differed among cell types. And they looked for patterns between specific combinations of chromatin marks and the particular genes that were active in the various kinds of cells.

Using their new mapping strategy, the researchers have begun assigning meaning to the regions beyond our genes. And they've revealed how minute changes in these regions might be connected to common diseases.

Marks on the genetic landscape; clues to the genetic origins of disease.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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