A new column will periodically summarize projects that have been singled out by the Schools. The notes below are from releases prepared by Franklin Hoke of the School of Medicine's Office of Public Affairs.--Ed.
Now, using several innovative assay techniques, the Penn group has raised the number of known active L1 elements to seven. Based on the new findings (May issue of Nature Genetics), they estimate that as many as 30 to 60 active L1 elements may reside in the total human genome. L1's purpose is unclear, but tantalizing clues suggest an important role of some kind: "There are sequences in these elements that are similar to sequences in certain bacteria, so from an evolutionary point of view they are very old," notes Dr. Haig H. Kazazian, Jr., chairman of genetics and senior author on the study. "And they have expanded in the last 50 million years or so, especially in mammals. We suspect they may be a key force for diversification during evolution--a mechanism, perhaps, for increasing the plasticity of the genome."
In 1945, just after World War II's end and only a few years after 37-year-old baseball player Lou Gehrig died in 1941 of amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), military physicians stationed on the Pacific island of Guam identified a new neuro-degenerative disease, eventually named Lytico-Bodig, that appeared to combine some of the most fearsome symptoms of ALS, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's diseases. Further study showed the disease struck Guam's minority Chamorro population at rates about 100 times higher than the U.S. incidence rates for the better known neurological diseases. Study has continued in the decades since, but answers have been elusive.
Now 35 scientists from six institutions have a cooperative grant from the National Institute on Aging to attack again the problem of the mysterious Guamanian disease--and, they hope, provide a critical boost to science's still-limited understanding of ALS, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. PennMed's Drs. Virginia M.-Y. Lee and John Q. Trojanowski ( see story in this issue) are among the eight principal investigators. The overall project is led by Drs. W.C. Wiederholt, California/San Diego, and Ulla-Katrina Craig at the University of Guam.
Volume 44 Number 1
July 15, 1997
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