The new map shows how genes interact

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Over a decade ago, an international consortium of scientists first deleted every yeast gene, one by one. They were surprised to find that only one in five were essential for survival. It wasn’t until last year that advances in gene-editing technology allowed scientists to tackle the equivalent question in human cells. It revealed the same answer: a mere fraction of genes are essential in human cells too.
These findings suggested most genes are “buffered” to protect the cell from mutations and environmental stresses. To understand how this buffering works, scientists had to ask if cells can survive upon losing more than one gene at a time, and they had to test millions of gene pairs.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre have created the first map that shows the global genetic interaction network of a cell. It begins to explain how thousands of genes coordinate with one another to orchestrate cellular life. It also shows how, if a gene function is lost, there’s another gene in the genome to fill its role.
The study that took 15 years to complete, opens the door to a new way of exploring how genes contribute to disease with a potential for developing finely-tuned therapies.