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Research to explore impact of Junk DNA on heart health

Wednesday 14th November 2018
DNA hitherto thought to have no purpose is to be the subject of new research into heart disease.
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New research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) is to explore what effect, if any, so-called junk DNA has on heart disease. 

The term 'junk DNA' is used to describe DNA that is believed to no longer serve any useful purpose. However, it may be that this is not the case because it does have a function, which is as yet undiscovered.

Queen Mary University of London will explore regions of this DNA to establish if it contains any genetic data that could be responsible for inherited heart conditions, which are by nature the result of inherited faulty genes.

Such conditions are often only discovered post-mortem after somebody has died suddenly. However, by discovering new genetic clues, lives might be saved by identifying new warning signs. 
Existing research has shown that many of the faults causing heart conditions are within the ten per cent of DNA carrying the orders for human genes, but others are known to exist in the other 90 per cent that has previously written off as junk. 

This discovery has led to the uncoded regions of DNA being the subject of new research. 

Dr Diego Villar Lozano will lead the research using a BHF grant of £470,000, with his work comparing the non-coding DNA of humans and animals. 

He said: "Our study will help to identify DNA regions and variants contributing to heart disease risk and could have the potential to impact clinical management of this condition, through the development of personalised diagnostic tests or medical treatments."

Senior research advisor at the BHF Dr Noel Faherty praised the "fantastic generosity" of the public in helping to fund its research. 

The concept of 'junk' DNA followed the notion of vestigiality, the idea that many human organs were evolutionary hangovers that now have no purpose. However, most have been found to have a use and it may be that the same turns out to be true for DNA.  

Written by Matthew Horton

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