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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK
Disease gene pairing points to future
dna
Unravelling disease causing genes could take decades
For the first time, science has revealed insights into the way genes interact to cause illnesses like asthma, diabetes and obesity.

A team of researchers, including some from London's Institute of Child Health, has uncovered two genes that work together to contribute to a rare genetic disorder called Bardet-Biedl syndrome.

It only affects one in 50,000 babies born in the UK, but can cause obesity, progressive blindness and kidney failure.

However, it is the first time that progress of this type has been made in a disease with a complex genetic root.

Previously, scientists have managed to unravel only diseases caused by mutations in a single gene, such as Huntingdon's disease and cystic fibrosis.

Many different genes have emerged as likely candidates to trigger a variety of common illnesses - but scientists cannot piece together exactly which ones are important, and in which combination.

This finding increases hope that one day, even more complicated genetic trails can be followed to explain the causes of common diseases which are thought to be produced by as many as six or more mutated genes working in combination.

Small step

One of the researchers, Dr Philip Beales, from the institute, told BBC News Online: "In the last decades, we have been successful in identifying a lot of single genes which are linked to disease.

"However, it is acknowledged that many more common illnesses such as asthma have several genes involved.

"This is a small step towards discovering how these work."

He predicted it could still be 50 years before the full picture emerged.

The research, described in the journal Science, involved examining hundreds of families who had children with Bardet-Biedl syndrome.

They identified two genes, BBS2 and BBS6, which seem to play a role. Each person has two copies of each gene - one from each parent.

Some affected babies had two mutated copies of BBS2 , and one mutated copy of BBS6.

Others had two mutated versions of BBS6, and one of BBS2.

However, three of the four gene copies had to be mutated before the child actually became ill.

See also:

27 Aug 01 | Health
Long-life gene secrets
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