A massive new database could advance understanding of how alterations in non-gene portions of DNA contribute to certain diseases, the New York Times reports (Kolata, New York Times, 9/5).
Last week, data from the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, or ENCODE -- a follow-up to the Human Genome Project -- was released through a series of 30 open-access papers in several journals, including Nature, Science, Cell, Genome Research, JBC and others.
The data are available online and through a mobile application (Fiore, MedPage Today, 9/7).
Details of Database
The federal project -- which involved 440 scientists from 32 institutions worldwide -- identified four million DNA "switches" that previously were thought to be "junk" DNA. According to the scientists, the switches play a critical role in controlling gene activity and could be linked to certain diseases, including cancer (New York Times, 9/5).
Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute and data coordinator for ENCODE said the project involves hundreds of terabytes of data that are "staggering not only in size but in detail" (MedPage Today, 9/7).
Using the Database for Research
Mark Rubin -- a prostate cancer genetics researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College -- compared the database to Google Maps. He said ENCODE provides a road map with traffic patterns for different ways to approach cancer genes, adding, "Now you can follow the roads and see the traffic circulation. That's exactly the same way we will use these data in cancer research" (New York Times, 9/5).
According to the scientists involved in the project, the database eventually could be used to interpret genome-wide association studies (MedPage Today, 9/7). Such studies aim to identify DNA variants associated with certain diseases by comparing the genomes of people with and without the specific condition (Brown/Boytchev, Washington Post, 9/5).
Additional Work Remains
According to Birney, the project's DNA mapping efforts are only halfway done and the "deeper characterization" of all genomic activity is about 10% finished (MedPage Today, 9/7).
Bradley Bernstein -- an ENCODE collaborator and a pathologist at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute -- said, "We know the working parts, but we don't know how they fit together" (Brown, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 9/6).