The first comprehensive map of gene activity across the human body has been published in the top international journal, Nature by the FANTOM Consortium.
The FANTOM project (for Functional Annotation of the Mammalian genome) is an initiative of RIKEN, the Japanese premier research organisation, launched in 2000 to understand the expression of human genes using state-of-the-art DNA technologies (http://fantom.gsc.riken.jp/).
Over 250 research experts from 114 institutions based in more than 20 countries worked as part of FANTOM 5, the 5th edition of the project.
Humans are composed of 400 different cell types, each with their own specific role, yet each cell contains identical DNA. The difference between all these cells is which genes, or parts of the DNA are used.
Dr Alistair Forrest, Scientific Coordinator of FANTOM5, who will be joining the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research later in the year, said that “In FANTOM5 we have for the first time systematically investigated exactly what genes are used in virtually all cell types across the body,”
Leukaemia researchers from Harry Perkins Institute, Professor Peter Klinken and Dr Louise Winteringham were part of the international consortium and worked on the project over three years.
Dr Winteringham said the Perth-based team felt privileged to be part of such a global effort working towards a better understanding of how we function as humans.
“This paper is incredibly significant because we mapped more than 200 different cell types to see which genes are turned on and which aren’t in each cell type. Having this incredibly detailed understanding of how normal cells work will provide a better understanding of how cells become diseased, for example in cancer and leukemia.
“This was a huge amount of work and it was very exciting to be part of such a large multi-national consortium,” Dr Winteringham said.