Scientists Map Genetic Regulatory Elements for the Heart

Scientists have devised a new computational model that can be used to reveal the genetic regulatory elements responsible for the development and maintenance of the heart. The research team says the model also could be applied to other organs and tissues.

The research was conducted by scientists at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the University of Chicago. The findings are published in the March 2010 issue of Genome Research and are available online.

By using tiny segments of DNA, called regulatory elements, that control gene expression, cells in the heart and other organs switch genes on and off  and at different points in their lifespan. The new computational model is used to detect these switches.

“We can finally say that there is a well-defined genetic code hardwired in our genomes that can be used to specifically identify heart regulatory elements in the vast sequence that makes up the human genome,” said Ivan Ovcharenko, who led the NCBI team and is a coauthor on the paper. “With the advance of computational methods, we can use computers to break this code, learn its encryption, and understand the signals heart cells receive to regulate genes.”

NCBI is part of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. Two other NIH institutes co-funded the University of Chicago research, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute.