Thursday, August 14, 2008

Experts hope to better understand the 'Y'

[Source: Jack Gillum, Arizona Daily Star] - Perhaps the Y chromosome hasn't been that interesting until now.

The DNA structure determines sex in humans, but UA researchers, armed with new equipment, are taking their research further. They intend to map the chromosomes of people with distinct ancestries, which researchers call a first-of-its-kind endeavor.

The idea, Arizona Research Laboratories officials say, is to investigate how genes on the chromosome could point out "promising" genetic markers. They're getting help from $1.8 million worth of instruments to aid in that investigation.

The new work, said ARL Director Michael A. Cusanovich, is to identify genetic combinations that could, among other uses, lead to treatments and curb the progression of certain diseases.

DNA — the building blocks of life — and its identification was made famous by the international Human Genome Project. That effort, begun in 1990, was to identify the more than 25,000 human genes. This new UA endeavor, Cusanovich said, builds on the concept by figuring out which genes on the Y chromosome do what.

One of the new machines, made by Roche Holding AG, gives researchers a way to identify an organism's genes. UA's Genomic Analysis and Technology Core facility, known as GATC, is working with Roche to sequence, or find the right order of building blocks in the Y chromosome.

It's a product that will be "very useful for a number of different researchers," said Michael Hammer, a UA professor and GATC's director. Those researchers would include Arizona businesses that want to test things such as antibiotic resistance.

The ARL research may also be part of a new trend of "personalized medicine," in which patients receive individualized drug therapies.
Tucson-based Ventana Medical Systems helped pioneer that concept with its cancer-tissue testing. (Ventana is now owned by Roche, maker of one of UA's new devices.)

GATC is a 15-person facility at ARL that performs molecular biology diagnostics and trains investigators and students. Officials say the other new machines will help researchers do better genetic testing and provide for rapid identification of infectious organisms.

And while much development has yet to be done, Hammer said, the new research could "set a gold standard for assessing the Y chromosome."

● Contact reporter Jack Gillum at 573-4178 or at

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