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From fish to man in DNA


Benefitting from less junk in Fugu DNA
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Well, the fish… fish gene is about 1/8 the size of the human gene. We have sequenced many of these and compared them with the human gene, and in all cases find the same number of introns, but the introns are tiny in the fish, and whereas they can be enormous in… in the human or mammalian gene. And one of the things that of course would be important is exactly how – what's called in the trade synteny, but synteny is on a much larger scale, that means on the same chromosome, on the same chunk of DNA; I like to call this contiguity, because it's going to be on a small scale – to what extent this has been conserved. And we have growing evidence that this is conserved over reasonable distances. A rough calculation showed us that it might be conserved over about a million base pairs of human DNA, and… which would be equivalent to a 100,000 base pairs of fugu DNA, and it may be of that order or even better. So this enables you to go and find human genes simply by using the fish, and it also enables you to actually go and characterise human genes, which are enormous. For example, the gene that's affected in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, dystrophin, is 2.8 mega bases, that is 2… nearly 3 million base pairs. Whereas the parts… the part that we have already sequenced has been reduced by a factor of 20 in size, and so that if the whole thing were to follow the rest of it – which we're still doing – were to follow this, then the fish gene would be of the order of about 150 base pairs, which means we could characterise it. 150,000. 150,000 base pairs. Which means that we could characterise genes very quickly. Now, I think a large number of people will come to use this, and in fact I do not want to set up a big institute to do this, but in fact I think it should be dispersed. I think the technology does not exist yet to… to tackle sequences as large as 400… genomes as large as 400 million base pairs, and until that develops we want a lot of people to come and get the benefit from this. It will also help us – following the Talleyrand principle which is: never do for yourself that which you can get other people to do for you – it will also help us to get a lot more information on this. And you might want to be interested in what is the information we are looking for.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Duration: 3 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010