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Korean Scientists Develop Gene-Screening Software
February 4, 2005
South Korean scientists have developed new-concept software that can pinpoint specific genes that cause cancer and various other diseases by analyzing DNA chips.
The state-backed Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) on January 17 announced its researchers, headed by informatics team leader Park Seon-hee, made the breakthrough technology. "By studying actual clinical data in DNA chips, we established an architecture that can screen disease-causing genes through the analysis of the deluge of data in the chips," Park said. She said the software tailored to search the exact gene regulatory region will help other scientists track problematic genes of patients by inputting their experimental data inside DNA chips. "Finding the specific genes that trigger diseases is the first step in genetic therapy. It is similar to identifying the target before hunting down it," she explained.
Genetic therapy is an emerging technique for correcting the genes that are responsible for disease by replacing, augmenting or eliminating the missing or defective genes. Genes, the basic physical and functional units of heredity, are the sequences of bases that encode instructions on how to produce proteins. Although genes receive the most attention, proteins perform most of life's functions and many genetic disorders actually occur when the gene-encoded proteins fail to function normally.
In developing the promising therapeutic method, DNA chips offer a very efficient tool for deciphering DNA to scientists by allowing them to collect information about DNA sequences faster than the past norm. The thumbnail-sized chips enable biologists to analyze genes by the thousands rather than by the old-fashioned one-by-one way and the ETRI software provides a way to quickly organize such experiments.
In addition to the gene selection architecture and gene regulatory region search system, the newly developed software includes a protein function analysis and prediction system. Another upside of the software is that it can help stem cell researchers locate the particular genes involved in the differentiation processes in distinctive human organs.
Korea has surfaced as a leading country in stem cell research after Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk last year cloned human embryos and extracted stem cell lines. Park said the ETRI plans to commercialize the technology this year in cooperation with local bioventure-start-ups with the aim of producing substances for new drugs. "Our software is significant because it is a cross between information technology and biological technology, the two major pillars that will bolster our future industries," she said.