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Ontario researcher plays major role in the deciphering of fruit fly and roundworm genome


Toronto, ON – An Ontario researcher has played a key role in the development of a new resource that will help genomics researchers around the world find new ways to prevent and treat cancer.

Researchers this week published near-complete data sets from the fruit fly and roundworm genomes, including hundreds of new protein-encoding genes, thousands of novel gene transcripts (the instructions from genes that produce proteins) and thousands of new non-protein coding RNAs that regulate gene expression. This information will give researchers a better understanding of the role genomics plays in both species’ development and, because sections of the genome for both species are shared with humans, could contribute significantly to the understanding of human health and disease.

Dr Lincoln Stein, leader of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s Informatics and Bio-computing Platform, led the Data Coordination Centre (DCC) for the modENCODE project, which is funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the US National Institutes of Health. The findings will be published in two separate papers in the December 24 edition of Science.

“I’d like to congratulate Dr. Stein and his colleagues on their significant achievement,” said Dr Tom Hudson, president and scientific director of OICR. “The data sets published today will serve as an enduring resource for genomics researchers around the world. It will provide a solid foundation from which researchers can decipher the human genome and ultimately find new ways to prevent and treat cancer and other disease.”

The DCC is a central resource that coordinates, standardizes and publishes all data provided by consortium members at institutions located in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. All raw and analyzed data, metadata and interpreted results from the modENCODE project are uploaded to the project’s DCC and made publically available to researchers via the modENCODE website (www.modencode.org), where it can be searched, displayed and downloaded by researchers around the world.

“This project required a high level of coordination and cooperation between researchers,” said Stein. “But by working together and sharing information with other researchers around the world, we ensure we are effectively using this information in a way that can help us to build better predictive models that can ultimately improve human health.”
The modENCODE project was launched in 2007 to complement the work being done on the ENCODE project, which in 2007 completed a pilot that found functional elements in about one per cent of the human genome. The fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) and roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans) were selected for the modENCODE project because while they share some genetic information with humans, they also have smaller, more manageable genome and shorter life cycle. Both were initially sequenced as part of the Human Genome Project.
modENCODE researchers will continue to work over the next year to identify additional functional components that will expand on the current catalogues for the fruit fly and roundworm. They will begin comparing data from worms, flies, and humans for further commonalities.