A new technique that identifies how genes are controlled could help scientists spot errors in the genetic code which trigger disease.
The method focusses on those parts of DNA - known as enhancer regions - which regulate the activity of genes and direct the production of proteins that have key functions within the body.
Errors in protein production can result in a wide range of diseases in people.
The new method could help researchers pinpoint the source of disease-causing mutations in enhancers. Until now, these genetic errors have been difficult to interpret as the link between enhancers and the genes they control was not clear.
Researchers at the MRC Human Genetics Unit were part of an international collaboration that identified all the enhancers - and the genes they activate - on a single human chromosome.
The team then tested the technique in zebrafish and found that genes are controlled by enhancers in a similar way, suggesting that this type of regulation takes place in all animals.
Individual genes may be under the control of many enhancers, which allow gene activation to be carefully regulated. This allows precise control of gene activity, which is important during development and in maintaining normal brain function.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was funded by the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union. The study was carried in close collaboration with researchers based in other parts of the UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Norway.
Professor David FitzPatrick, of the MRC Human Genetics Unit, who took part in the study, said: "This work is an important step in identifying which enhancers control which genes, and this will help us in interpreting the genetic changes we see in the part of the genome that does not code for protein."
IGMM PhD candidate Hans-Joachim Sonntag (Dr Ian Overton group) secured the FEBS Youth Travel Grant to attend the inaugural European Systems Medicine Advanced Summer School. This is the only award made across Europe and a great success for Hans. Full funding is provided for him to join world leading Systems Medicine researchers and present his work on drug resistance in renal cancers at a five day meeting in the scenic archipelago of Stockholm at Djurönäset.
The MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh (IGMM) has been successful in obtaining substantial grant funding from the European Union.
IGMM researchers have been awarded, or collaborated in, a total of 11 European grants with a total value of 15.9M Euros (IGMM share of 10.4M Euros) in the last five years.
The most recent successes include Dr Elizabeth Patton, from the MRC Human Genetics Unit, winning a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant for her work on the role of the melanocyte lineage in melanoma. These grants support the emergence of the next-generation of research leaders who are at the stage of consolidating their own independent research programme and can contribute new ideas and energy to science.
Three Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships have been awarded to Dr Charlene Lemaitre in the MRC Human Genetics Unit (Bickmore Lab) for work on the role of the cell nucleus in controlling embryonic development, to Dr Belen Rubio-Ruiz in the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre (Unciti-Broceta Lab) for research into the development of biochemically-stable prodrugs whose activation is locally mediated by metallic implants and to Dr Cigdem Selli in the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre (Sims Lab) to analyse the dormant cancer cells from ER+ breast tumours treated with hormonal therapy drug letrozole.
Professor Wendy Bickmore (MRC Human Genetics Unit) is a partner in a pan-European network to train PhD students investigating how the three-dimensional packing of the genome influences how genes work and contributes to disease.
"Prestigious Individual EU Research Grants and Fellowships funded through the ERC and Marie Curie schemes are a vital component of IGMM science and are a reflection of the Institute's growing International status. The ERC consolidator award will enable Liz Patton to add a new dimension to her exciting translational programme. Liz joins 5 other ERC grant holders in the IGMM, 3 at advanced level (Wendy Bickmore , Margaret Frame and Tim Aitman) and two with starter grants (Andrew Jackson and Omar Albagha) . The Marie Curie Fellowships attest to the quality of the talented postdoctoral fellows we are fortunate to recruit from across the EU."
Professor Nick Hastie, IGMM Director