PRDM9: The most exciting Gene in the Genome?

Siva Nagarajah

5 300x299 PRDM9: The most exciting Gene in the Genome?

PRDM9: the word alone may not strike as noteworthy, but don’t let the alphanumeric code deceive you. It might just prove to be one of the most fascinating and peculiar gene within our genome; posing vast implications for our understanding of life and evolution.

Students have for years memorised, recounted, and rewritten of random recombination, or shuffling of genes within sex cells; a process vital to producing the variation we see in organisms today. However when Professor Gilean McVean’s team at the Wellcome Trust centre for Human Genetics sequenced at which points along a chromosome such shuffling occurs, the results were surprising. Speaking at the Royal Society he stated “until recently we knew very little where it happened…. and why it happened” but it now appears “most recombination is clustered in to 5-10 %of genome in short windows of about 1000 bases”. Such reordering within hotspots on chromosomes is neither random nor even. So what causes it?

Protein PRDM9 (coded by gene of same name) naturally. It appears all mammals have different PRDM9 consequently binding to different hotspots, determining where and how their genome is reorganised. For instance humans and chimpanzees share on average 99% of DNA, with many proteins only being different by one amino acid. But in the case of PRDM9 the sequences are utterly different in both, with the PRDM9 gene perhaps being the most diverged between the two. As human beings “we think of being almost identical” to chimpanzees “at the cellular level, in terms of molecular processes” but this indicates “something has fundamentally switched”. The gene itself is changing at orders of magnitude greater than any other and may well have played part in early human chimpanzee separation from common ancestor. Studies in mice on the verge of becoming two separate species identify different PRDM9.Whilst slight variations in the PRDM9 within us also dictate what kind of mutations and disorders arise when it identifies a wrong hotspot, consequently causing wrong rearrangement.

PRDM9’s discovery highlights “just how bizarre the human genome” can be when you begin to unravel it and how processes such as recombination when explored in detail can have truly“unexpected turns and consequences”.

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  • New_Con

    Amazing! So this is what separates human beings from each other genetically in the difference we see around us? Do all white/black people have common PRDM9 characteristics to those in their own grouping? What governs recombination at this level? Explaining this will show how we all diverged to have different characteristics, intelligence and longevity. This gene could hold the key to explaining how we all differ and what is common to us and who we should marry.

  • Andy

    Call me a hopeless romantic, but I believe we ’should’ continue to marry the people we love. It can be very hit and miss, but it sure beats eugenics.

  • FirstAdvisor

    I agree that hunting for a mate is best left to individuals, but I must point out that you have no evidence for your blanket assertion any system is better than eugenics. Since eugenics has never been tried in human history, there is no data to support your bizzare and baseless prejudices.

  • New_Con

    I dont mean eugenics, you have taken my statements as blankets assertions. I meant that people who marry close relatives will have the proof that this is wrong. This gene will show who is genetically different enough for them and their children to have the best chance in life. This gene is now wittling through the 1% dissimilarity between man and chimps which all humans possess. To actually see a structure within that to see who is nearest those of our earliest ancestors and hence most diverse in their makeup and who is genetically similar to each other and has the least chance of survival as a result. There are implications of this which I have not fully thought through but its exciting research.

  • quizbook

    Eugenics has been tried in Germany and Sweden. It led to the killing of thousands of “unfit” people in 1930’s Germany, and forced steralisation in Sweden, from the 1920’s to the 50’s.

  • FirstAdvisor

    As usual, you display all the British ignorance and stupidity in your prejudices and bigotry. You probably call German Krauts in private. In any case, you are wrong, of course, and what you claim is factually false. Eugenics, which means ’selective breeding’, takes generations, and every human generation is 30 years long. Thus one 30 year period is not eugenics.

    You also talk as if you thought enforced culling and sterilization of the unfit was somehow bad or wrong. This bizzare theory would be a real surprise to any livestock farmer in the world, over the past 5,000 years. The fact that you have food on your table today, and the planet feeds nearly seven billion, is almost solely due to selective breeding in plants and animals over the past five millennia. Apparently you are totally ungrateful for what eugenics has done for you.

    If you want to claim that eugenics is bad science, then present some evidence to back up your ludicrous, flagrantly false allegations. Blanket assertions that enforced culling and sterilizations are bad or wrong won’t do. How do you know? Where is your evidence for the ridiculous claim that what works for every other species on the planet somehow doesn’t work on humans? Evidence, not prejudice and bigoty, please.

  • quizbook

    The fact that you can post such rubbish shows how bigoted you are. We are not animals to be “improved” by selective breeding. Killing and sterilizing people who are ill or disabled is inhuman. The way in which you refer to it shows how inhuman you are.

  • FirstAdvisor

    Quizbook —

    ‘We are not animals to be ‘improved’ by selective breeding.’ As any midschool biology teacher can tell you, your assertion is factually false. What do you think we are, angels or ghosts? First of all, culling and sterilyzing on the solid basis of intelligence tests is not anything like killing or sterilizing the ill or disabled. You can’t refute my proposal, and so you make up things I didn’t say, and then condemn me for saying them. Second, culling and sterilizing is only a matter of degree. Many medical treatments in the advanced nations float right at the edge of that line today, especially for the lower class in any hospital, and crossing it is simply one more development in political policy. The right to die is a major social dialogue, right now, and a political change in policy towards the principles of eugenics seems inevitable. So you are plainly wrong in your beliefs.

    Third, anything people do is human, and it’s not possible for humans to be inhuman. This is simply your personal, emotional opinion, with no basis in fact or evidence, and my opinion is just as valid and justified as yours.  You are not god, and you have no right to tell other people what to think, merely because you don’t like their opinions. Personally, I think you’re a blinker-headed fool, and your IQ is probably below 115.

  • Paul Wilkin

    “You also talk as if you thought enforced culling and sterilization of the unfit was somehow bad or wrong.”

    You have ignored enforced extermination. Why?

    The Nazi Eugenics program discredited the science of eugenics. Mandatory sterilization and later extermination of children and adults judged “unfit” on medical and let’s not forget, political and racial grounds raises deep moral issues, which simply do not arise when selectively breeding plants and animals.

    “Where is your evidence for the ridiculous claim that what works for
    every other species on the planet somehow doesn’t work on humans?”

    Selective breeding in humans would undoubtedly change the human gene pool over time as you say. The science would work for humans as well as for any other species, but the political, philosophical and moral issues remain. How should the science be given a chance to work? Who is fit to judge who is unfit to breed? Is mandatory sterilization justifiable? If it is, what about mandatory killing?

    There are, of course, more positive questions relating to eugenics. Would the human race be improved if a morally acceptable (democratic?) system of eugenics could be implemented?

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