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Study zeroes in on genes 'at work'

Los Angeles -- U.S. researchers say they're using human gene maps not just to show their location but also which ones interact with each other to help cells thrive.

Scientists at UCLA say their findings will help researchers understand which genes work together as cells grow, function and then die, a university release said Monday.

Humans have about 20,000 different genes that initiate and control all bodily processes, from moving blood through the veins to stimulating the immune system to attack a cold virus.

Not all genes in a cell are active during the processes, but some are almost always engaged in either one-on-one reactions or creating networks involving dozens of genes.

Previous research had mapped interactions between proteins, which are set in motion by genes, but not the genes themselves. Researchers say this is an important step in understanding the role each gene plays in triggering a process or function in the body.

The new findings go beyond just understanding where a gene is located, based on DNA sequencing -- that is, the order in which they reside in a cell.

"Current genetic maps show the order of genes and where they physically reside, like a street map of homes," Desmond Smith, a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA, said. "We took it one step further and were able to map which genes interact when they leave their homes and go to work."

"By looking at a gene's network of 'friends and co-workers,' we can tell a lot about its role and purpose," said researcher Andy Lin, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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