Cures may rest in mobile genetic material

July 29, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

BAR HARBOR, Maine -- Genetic material is surprisingly mobile, new research shows, a finding that offers new insights into many common inherited diseases and ways to cure them.

The movable genetic material may also explain how evolution can sometimes occur at an explosive rate, and it underscores the fact that humans are still evolving, says Dr. Haig H. Kazazian Jr., director of Johns Hopkins University's Center for Medical Genetics.

"Such a roll of the genetic dice may not be so good for the individual, but it is great for the species," because it allows for greater diversity in evolutionary development, he reported at a genetics conference this week sponsored by Jackson Laboratory of Bar Harbor and Johns Hopkins.

Learning how nature transfers big genetic chunks could provide scientists with a new way to perform gene therapy, Dr. Kazazian said.

The movable genetic material comes in two forms, a small size called triplets and larger fragments called transposons. The triplet scattershot can hit a number of genes, mutating them so that they create a complex genetic disorder with multiple symptoms, he said.

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