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The Year of Darwin

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Sep 15, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 16)

Deciphering the Process of Gene Evolution

Team Advances Knowledge Through a Series of Investigative Studies on the REST Protein

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    Ian Wood, Ph.D.

    GEN continues its celebration of the “Year of Darwin” by looking at new research that provides important and novel insights on the evolution of genes.

    Scientists at the University of Leeds in the U.K. and the Genome Institute of Singapore say they have discovered one of the mechanisms governing how our physical features and behavioral traits have evolved over the centuries. Darwin proposed that such traits are passed from parent to offspring, with natural selection favoring those that provide the greatest advantage for survival. But he did not have a scientific explanation for this process.

    The investigators report that a protein known as REST plays a central role in switching specific genes on and off, thereby determining how specific traits develop in offspring. To learn more about the significance of this finding, GEN interviewed lead researcher Ian Wood, Ph.D., a senior lecturer and a member of the University of Leeds’ faculty of biological sciences. He works in the university’s Institute of Membrane and Systems Biology.

    You can also hear the entire interview as a podcast by going to www.genengnews.com/genCasts.aspx?aid=3030.

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Scientifically Studying Ecstasy

MDMA (commonly known as the empathogen “ecstasy”) is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which is reserved for compounds with no accepted medical use and a high abuse potential. Two researchers from Stanford, however, call for a rigorous scientific exploration of MDMA's effects to identify precisely how the drug works, the data from which could be used to develop therapeutic compounds.

Do you agree that ecstasy should be studied for its potential therapeutic benefits?

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