The goal of DNA@Home is to discover what regulates the genes in DNA. Ever notice that skin cells are different from a muscle cells, which are different from a bone cells, even though all these cells have every gene in your genome? That's because not all genes are "on" all the time. Depending on the cell type and what the cell is trying to do at any given moment, only a subset of the genes are used, and the remainder are shut off. DNA@home uses statistical algorithms to unlock the key to this differential regulation, using your volunteered computers.
The primary means by which genes are regulated is at the stage of "transcription" where a molecule called a polymerase reads along the DNA from the start of the gene to the end of the gene creating an RNA messenger. Other molecules, called transcription factors, bind to the DNA near the beginning of the gene and can help to recruit the polymerase or they can get in the way of, or inhibit, the polymerase. It is the presence or absence of the binding of these transcription factors that determine whether a gene is "on" or "off" but, for the most part, scientists do not know which transcription factors are responsible for regulating which genes.
Transcription factors have "fingers" that prefer a certain short, sloppy pattern in the nucleotides "letters" of a DNA sequence, but in many cases we don't know what these patterns are. Our software looks for short sequences of nucleotides that appear more-or-less the same near multiple gene beginnings and which also appear more-or-less the same in the corresponding locations in the genomes of related species. As DNA sequences are huge, ranging from millions to billions of nucleotides, and these sequences are short and only approximately conserved from one site to the next, this is a real needle-in-the-haystack problem and requires lots of computational power. We hope that your computers can help.
Our current plans involve tackling the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome to thoroughly understand how tuberculosis accomplishes what it does -- so that others can use that information to stop this disease that kills millions every year. We also plan to tackle Yersinia pestis, the cause of bubonic plague.
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PeopleDNA@Home is currently run by:
- Travis Desell, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of North Dakota
- Malik Magdon-Ismail, Associate Professor of Computer Science
- Lee Newberg Research Associate Professor of Computer Science, and New York State Wadsworth Center Research Scientist
- Boleslaw Szymanski, Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science
- Lei Chen, Graduate Research Assistant in Computer Science