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ScienceDaily (Oct. 7, 2008) — Small stretches of seemingly useless DNA harbor a big secret, say researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. There's one problem: We don't know what it is. Although individual laboratory animals appear to live happily when these genetic ciphers are deleted, these snippets have been highly conserved throughout evolution.
"The true function of these regions remains a mystery, but it's clear that the genome really does need and use them," said Gill Bejerano, PhD, assistant professor of developmental biology and of computer science. In fact, these so-called "ultraconserved" regions are about 300 times less likely than other regions of the genome to be lost during mammalian evolution, according to research from Bejerano and graduate student Cory McLean.
Although some of the ultraconserved regions, which were first identified by Bejerano in 2004, are involved in the regulation of the expression of neighboring genes, previous research has shown that mice missing each of four regions seem perfectly normal.
"It's very surprising that none of the four has any observable phenotype," said Bejerano. "In some ways it just doesn't make sense."