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‘Junk DNA’ has value for roundworms

Some germline genes in C. elegans get license to operate from genomic ‘watermarks’

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7:00am, July 18, 2016
Junk DNA diagrams

NO ALIENS ALLOWED  Roundworms (C. elegans) have to fight off foreign DNA while protecting its own genes that will be passed to the next generation. Some bits of “junk DNA” — called PATCs — may help. PATCs help keep the worms’ own genes active while alien genes are turned off.

“Junk DNA” may be an essential part of a worm’s inheritance.

Parts of this not-so-disposable DNA serves as a “watermark” to authenticate a Caenorhabditis elegans roundworm’s own genes and distinguish them from foreign genes that need to be shut down, researchers report in the July 14 Cell.

Genes bearing the watermarks — called PATCs — are protected against being shut down. These genes also tend to be active in the germ line (eggs and sperm and the cells that give rise to them). Genes without authentication codes get turned off, especially in the germ line, the researchers discovered. That raises the possibility that other species, perhaps even humans, issue their own germline gene work permits.

Researchers have known that C.

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