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Virginia Tech Scientist Uses Novel Technique To Study Inherited Diseases

Monday, September 8, 2014  
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Hehuang Xie, an associate professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, described the biochemical process called DNA methylation in a recent paper in Genome Research.

DNA methylation, in which a methyl group is added to DNA, is one way in which the expression of genes may be altered. DNA methylation patterns are heritable, and thus may be a way of tracing how cancers begin since the methylation pattern helps cells differentiate into specific tissues. But the inheritance of methylation patterns has been up until now very hard to track across generations.
Xie is the first to study methylation patterns across the entire genome using a technique called hairpin bisulfite sequencing. Potentially important patterns were tracked that may shed light on how cancer and other diseases passed along in families.

"In this study, we integrated hairpin bisulfite sequencing data with various '-omics' data to scrutinize the inheritance of DNA methylation patterns that are difficult to track," Xie said. "We made a number of interesting observations. For instance, accurate methylation inheritance is highly dependent on the binding of specific trans-factors to local sequences. In addition, the genome-wide hairpin bisulfite sequencing technique we developed provides several advantages over traditional strategies for DNA methylation studies and does not add to the cost of sequencing."

The research should lead to greater understanding about certain cancers and environmental factors contributing to them, as well as other influences on the genome that are generally harder to quantify.

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