Once the human genome was sequenced in 2001, the hunt was on for the genes that make each of us unique, but scientists have found that we differ from each other mainly because of differences not in our genes, but in how they're regulated
Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, and Yale and Stanford Universities in the USA, have found that we differ from each other mainly because of differences not in our genes, but in how they're regulated - turned on or off, for instance.
In a study published in Science, they are the first to compare entire human genomes and determine which changes in the stretches of DNA that lie between genes make gene regulation vary from one person to the next. Their findings hail a new way of thinking about ourselves and our diseases.
The technological advances of the past decade have been so great that scientists can now obtain the genetic sequences - or genomes - of several people in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost it took to determine that first human genome. Moreover, these advances now enable researchers to understand how genes are regulated in humans.
A group of scientists led by Jan Korbel at EMBL and Michael Snyder initially at Yale and now in Stanford were the first to compare individually sequenced human genomes to look for what caused differences in gene regulation amongst ten different people. They focused on non-coding regions - stretches of DNA that lie between genes and, unlike genes, don't hold the instructions for producing proteins.