A biology researcher at The University of Texas at Arlington will be using the high-tech tools provided by the North Texas Genome Center to shed light on the role of 'jumping genes'.
Transposable elements or 'jumping genes' make up a large fraction of the genome and are responsible for much of the mass of DNA in cells. They are known as 'jumping genes' as they change their position or copy themselves within the genome.
"These 'jumping genes' are initially parasitic, moving and replicating within cells in a way similar to viruses, but in some instances they seem to become 'domesticated' to serve new functions within the host cell," said Esther Betran, UTA professor of biology, who recently won a $570,197 National Science Foundation grant for this functional and comparative genomics research.
"We are testing the hypothesis of whether 'jumping genes' are co-opted by the organism to build new gene regulatory pathways linked to reproduction. Another possibility is that the new pathways are an adaptation to the 'jumping genes' themselves," she added.
To do this, Betran and her team will be looking at fruit flies or Drosophila, a model organism often used in genetics research, as it has a short reproductive cycle, large number of progeny and the genome can be edited easily. The fly also shares large numbers of genes with humans, including 75 percent of those associated with human disease.
"We will harness the power of genetics and genomics to elucidate the biological function of four domesticated transposase genes known as DPLG1-4," Betran said. "We will also be using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing techniques to test these hypotheses over several generations of the fruit fly."
"The North Texas Genome Center is a vital resource, as it provides us with high-throughput sequencing of complete genomic and transcriptomic information within a very short period of time."
Clay Clark, UTA's chair of biology, congratulated Betran on this new award, which will also provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate researchers to learn new valuable skills.
"As well as contributing to scientific advancement, this functional genomics project will help train rising scientists in cutting edge functional genomics technologies and data analysis, which are rapidly growing fields with many opportunities for professional advancement," Clark said.