Search Magazine June 01, 2009

A Minute to Understanding: gene networks

What are gene networks?

Cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more are seldom related to a single mutated gene. Instead, networks of many genes plus environmental factors contribute to an equation that can increase (or decrease) the likelihood of disease. These gene networks form webs of interrelated functions, sometimes of extraordinary complexity. When the network malfunctions, disease can result.

But embracing the complexity of gene networks and understanding the interrelationships are crucial to making clinical progress for many diseases. Now, with the human and mouse genomes sequenced and much faster sequencing tools available, researchers are able to begin to investigate gene networks. And The Jackson Laboratory is at the leading edge of inquiry into how gene networks function (indeed, they are sometimes thought of as "functional" networks) and contribute to complex disease.

The work isn't easy. Understanding gene networks requires a lot of intense research, analysis, creative thinking and computing horsepower. Nonetheless, the potential rewards--better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease--make the Laboratory's efforts in this realm well worthwhile.