Reanimated ”˜Junk’ DNA Is Found to Cause Disease

The human genome is riddled with dead genes, fossils of a sort, dating back hundreds of thousands of years ”” the genome’s equivalent of an attic full of broken and useless junk.

Some of those genes, surprised geneticists reported Thursday, can rise from the dead like zombies, waking up to cause one of the most common forms of muscular dystrophy. This is the first time, geneticists say, that they have seen a dead gene come back to life and cause a disease.

”œIf we were thinking of a collection of the genome’s greatest hits, this would go on the list,” said Dr. Francis Collins, a human geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health.

The disease, facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, known as FSHD, is one of the most common forms of muscular dystrophy. It was known to be inherited in a simple pattern. But before this paper, published online Thursday in Science by a group of researchers, its cause was poorly understood.

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