Sunday, 4 September 2011

Irish scientists discover useful "Zombie" gene

A "zombie" gene which scientists believed to be dead and inactive, has in fact proved to be alive according to research by Irish scientists.

This research development will be of great relevance in the treatment of many common conditions including cancer and spina bifida. 

The research project, funded by the Health Research Board of Ireland, was led by Dr Anne Parle-McDermott of the School of Biotechnology in Dublin City University (DCU). The results have just been published in the prestigious US research journal, 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'.
 Scientists have known and been aware about these “zombie” or pseudogenes for decades but the genes were always considered dead and inactive, said Dr. Parle-McDermott.

Dr. Parle-Mc Dermott and her team investigated four "zombie" genes associated with the well known DHRF gene.

 According to Dr Parle-McDermott"Using advances in DNA analysis techniques and the completion of the Human Genome sequence, we have demonstrated that DHFRL1 is not a dead gene, but is very much 'alive' and functional. This now brings into question the many other so-called human pseudogenes, and whether or not they are also alive."
"Our findings call for a reassessment of many human pseudogenes and urges researchers to challenge the assumptions made in the past. It is possible that given the many of the thousands of known pseudogenes, many more may not be zombies at all', she said.

This finding may also have particular relevance in spina bifida research as the DHFR "zombie" gene affects the regulation of folic acid . This may make it possible to develop a test to warn if a woman is ta higher risk of having a baby with the condition. It could also represent a new drug target in chemotherapy regimes, that were not previously considered.  Cancer treatments may be more successful if drugs are designed to also deactivate the DHFR zombie gene.


  1. its interesting describing the gene as alive it feels like its a separate entity with the potential to cure some serious diseases! i hopes its discovery is put to good use in the near future!

  2. If this gene may aid spina bifida detection and cancer treatment in humans I wonder if this would differ in animals ?

  3. I think it would have different uses in other animals , depends on the species though ! But this would require a study in itself

  4. The possibilities seem endless ...imagine the uses of all the previously thought inactive genes .This could be the start of many discoveries.