Scientists have made a significant discovery that explains how and why the billions of different cells in our bodies look and act so differently despite containing identical genes. The discovery, made by a team from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, applies to all complex animals, including humans.
The team has discovered a completely new family of proteins in animals with vertebrae — including fish, reptiles, birds and mammals — that they have named PALI1 and PALI2. Fascinatingly, these families of proteins both originated from genes that have gained new functions since vertebrate and invertebrate species evolved from one another millions of years ago. Specifically, PALI1 is vital for embryonic development and in particular for controlling cellular identity.
Associate Professor in Genetics at Trinity, Adrian Bracken, led the team that has just published the findings in the leading international scientific journal, Molecular Cell. Dr Eric Conway and Dr Emilia Jerman, the lead authors on the paper, previously worked as PhD students in the laboratory of Professor Bracken, while the team also collaborated with the Haruhiko Koseki lab at the Riken Institute in Japan.
The new work helps towards understanding why a blood cell and a brain
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