DNA research revealing ‘libraries’ of information

27 March 2014
Intriguing map of gene activity reveled by FANTOM5 team

Australian researchers are part of large international collaboration that has documented the complex pattern of genes expressed in body’s normal cells.
The library - published in the prestigious Nature scientific journal - provides unprecedented insight into health, development and behavior.

Understanding what is written in our DNA has been the quest of an international consortium FANTOM (Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome). This initiative involves scientists from more than 20 countries and is providing new ways to read and understand the ‘DNA book’.

Commenting about the significant of this project, Associate Professor Christine Wells from the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) said, “The way DNA information is used in different cells at different times, through development – or in cells interacting with environmental signals – is a whole library of information. We are only just coming to terms with the size of the library”.

“We don’t really understand the cataloguing system and we are trying hard to find the rules to help us navigate the rich information now available. This exciting project is revealing whole libraries, and whole shelves and books in the library, that we have never seen before. It is giving us information about the role of some genes that were previously unknown.The cure for a disease may well be held in one of these books, but this project is mapping the library, and not hunting for any single thing.”

A/Prof Wells said FANTOM’s findings enabled researchers to learn the rules of DNA information flow.

“We are starting to understand how cells find the right information in the precise instant that it is needed. The sheer ambition of this project required hundreds of researchers, committing to a generous sharing of skills, and data.To embed what we do in the lab at the AIBN in Brisbane into this huge global project has been extremely rewarding,” she said.

The fifth iteration of the collaboration, known as FANTOM5, involved a number of other University of Queensland researchers including Associate Professor Ernst Wolvetang who has for the first time been able to map in “exquisite detail” the gene regulatory networks underlying the first steps of human brain development. 

The FANTOM5 findings have recently been published in the prestigious journal Nature. To view the paper, click here.

For more information visit 
AIBN or RIKEN websites

Christine Wells and Ernst Wolvetang are Chief Investigators in the Stem Cells Australia initiative.

Media coverage:
Scientists release first-ever 'map' of gene activity in humans [SBS 26 March 2014]