Understanding gene expression to determine the rules that underlie health and disease



Humans and animals have nearly 20,000 different genes which encode the myriad of proteins that affect all aspects of an individual – the way individual cells work, our organs, even influencing how we think and behave. Other animals have basically the same 20,000 genes – so why are you a human and your dog isn’t?

The smallest difference in expression of any of those genes and proteins affects everything from an individual’s health to the subtle differences that make animals or people differ from each other, or the bigger differences between species. Danko and his group have developed a technique called ChRO-seq, which allows them to look at the subtle differences in gene expression in cells under different conditions. ChRO-seq tags RNA polymerase, the enzyme in cells that converts the DNA encoding our genes into RNA, allowing scientists to see which genes are being used by the cell. It also defines the location of control switches in our genomes, called “enhancers”, that control which parts of our body use which genes.

By understanding the detailed patterns of expression of all genes, the Danko laboratory is decoding the rules that underlie our health and well-being. This information also helps us to understand what happens when disease occurs, whether it be cancer or one of the many other diseases that arise when gene regulation is altered, causing the usually well-functioning gene orchestra to play out of tune.