Fun_People Archive
12 Feb
Naming Genes -- It's only a matter of time.

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 98 15:41:17 -0800
To: Fun_People
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Subject: Naming Genes -- It's only a matter of time.

Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <>
From: Jim Blandy <>

Re: Source code browsers for terrestrial life.

> is the Human Transcript Map page, with a section that lets you browse all
> the human chromosomes to see information about some selected interesting
> genes.  The ones I saw in my initial browsing all seem to be associated
> with diseases

This is a side-effect of the way research is done.  Since people looking to
cure a disease get to discover and name the relevant genes, a gene is often
named after the disease that happens when it is damaged.  The healthy
function of the gene may be something else entirely.

For example, a proto-oncogene is a gene which regulates the expression of
other genes; they're critical to healthy cell growth.  But the name
"oncogene" means "cancer gene."  Oncogenes are typically mutated proto-
oncogenes.  So the name for the healthy gene means, roughly, "a gene that
hasn't caused cancer yet."

It's as if an alien race came down to analyze Unix, and named each program
something like "segfault," "error message beginning with 'usage'," etc.

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