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Vestigial no more

Researchers propose a function for pseudogenes

1:50pm, June 23, 2010

Deploying doppelgängers to distract pesky hangers-on isn't a tactic reserved for paparazzi-plagued Hollywood heartthrobs. Some genes use look-alikes as decoys to distract mobs of interfering molecules, a new study shows.

The decoys, known as pseudogenes, are defective copies of protein-encoding genes. Many pseudogenes can make RNA copies of the instructions contained within their DNA, but have flaws that prevent the next step in the process, making proteins.

Because pseudogenes don’t make proteins, most biologists have thought of the doppelgängers as vestigial copies of functioning genes But a new study, published in the June 24 Nature, shows that pseudogenes aren't dead yet, and may in fact be important regulators of their protein-producing twins.

This discovery that pseudogenes may indeed have a function could transform biology, says Pier Paolo Pandolfi, a cancer geneticist and biologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in B

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