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Comparative Genome Biology

Led by Professor Frank Grutzner (School of Biological Sciences)

The comparison of genes, genomes and epigenetic mechanisms in different species has provided fundamental insights into how genes function in humans, how certain changes evolved, and how this contributes to disease. Studying genes in species distantly related to humans sheds light on metabolism and cancer, and has helped the development of novel drugs for diseases including type-2 diabetes.

The Mammalian Reproduction Group studies gene evolution in mammalian species distantly related to humans - monotremes in particular. Monotremes (platypus and echidna) have an extraordinary sex chromosome system that can reveal novel genes and pathways involved in sex determination and differentiation in all mammals, including humans. Monotremes have undergone radical changes to their stomach anatomy and physiology. This is accompanied by a massive loss or change of genes involved in digestion. By studying monotremes, we have the opportunity to identify the role of key genes involved in stomach function and metabolism in humans and other mammals. Such research may lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets for metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

The group investigate the role of genes in the piRNA pathway in ovary and ovarian cancer. They also embarked on new work to investigate if the interaction of genes in the nucleus has changed in ovarian cancer when compared to normal cells. Researchers discovered a gene that is important in metabolic control in humans and other mammals, is missing in the platypus while its receptor is still present. This suggests that other molecules must be acting on this receptor and these genes may also be able to activate the same receptor in other mammals and humans.

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