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Of Mice and Men and Women: ENCODE Survey Sizes Up Genome Differences

A comparison of the mouse genome and human genome reveals how the two species' molecular machinery differs, with implications for medical research.
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Lab mice are tried-and-true stand-ins for human experimental subjects when it comes to medical studies, but sometimes what works for mice doesn't work for men and women. Now a comparative survey of mouse and human genomes is taking a huge step toward figuring out why. More than 100 researchers contributed to the ENCODE studies published this week in the journals Nature, Science and Genome Research.

The gist of the findings is that mice and humans share 70 percent of protein-coding gene sequences — which account for 1.5 percent of their respective genomes — but the molecular mechanisms that regulate how those genes work are different roughly 75 percent of the time, due to evolutionary divergence. "The differences are not random," Bing Ren of the University of California at San Diego said in a news release. "They are clustered around certain pathways, such as in genes regulating the immune system." Ren and his colleagues say the differences revealed in the data from ENCODE (which stands for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) need to be taken into account in future studies.

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Studies and commentaries about the ENCODE comparison are available via Nature.