Recorded: 29 May 2003
That to me is—that’s an easy question. I put my dollar down on 120,000 genes. And for somebody to tell me that we only have twice as many genes as a worm twice as many genes as a fly, you know, that’s kind of disconcerting. It turns out that the reality is that we have, sure, thirty-five, forty thousand genes. Pick a number that’s popular today. But in real life those genes, each of those genes make multiple different gene products. So you have—if here are five axons in a gene, five coding regions. That they get spliced there would be this message. And then there are other times that you have alternative splicing where this guy goes away, or these two go away and you make something smaller. So you have at least five or four a half to five different alternatively spliced products. So if we say we have forty or fifty thousand genes, then it means we have two hundred and fifty thousand different messages, which make two hundred and fifty thousand different proteins. Then these proteins get modified, so they get phosphorolated and sulfur gets put on it or a sugar gets put on it, or a lipid gets put on it. We have a million different proteins that are made from these thirty, forty, fifty thousand genes, however many there are. And that’s why we’re different than C. elegans worms and flies. They only maybe have a couple of different alternative splicing, and so we’ve got many, many more gene products. Our genome is incredibly efficient, okay. So that’s one of my big surprises.
The other big surprise was that there are genes overlapping genes. And genes inside of genes. Here we have this huge genome that only one and a half percent encodes for, and these genes overlap each other, you know. Why would you ever do that? Well, you know, I didn’t design it. We’re just looking at what the designer did.
Bruce Roe is a George Lynn Cross Research Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a Ph.D in biochemistry from the University of Western Michigan and received a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship to research at SUNY Stony Brook. He spent his 1978-79 sabbatical at Fred Sanger’s lab, where he helped develop the renowned method of DNA sequencing currently used today.
Roe is founding director of the Advanced Center for Genomic Technology (ACGT) at the U. of Oklahoma, one of the first large-scale sequencing facilities in the US. At present, the ACGT innovates computational and robotic methods to analyze DNA sequence results and is currently determining the nucleotide sequence of five microbial genomes. In 1999, Roe’s research led to the elucidation and publication of the complete sequence of human chromosome 22. This was the first human chromosome to be sequenced in its entirely.
He has attended genome meetings and symposia at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for over 20 years.