Research highlight

Environment and ethnicity influence gene expression

Nature Genetics

December 7, 2009

Both genetic and environmental factors influence variation in gene expression, according to a study published online in this week’s Nature Genetics.

Gene expression is commonly used by researchers to gauge levels of gene activity, as misregulation of gene expression can often contribute to disease and disrupt developmental processes. In addition, rural and urban lifestyles are associated with differences in incidence of numerous diseases, including asthma, diabetes and cancer. In order to investigate the genetic and geographical effects on gene expression, Greg Gibson and colleagues analyzed gene expression variation in blood leukocyte samples from 194 Arab and Amazigh individuals from an urban city and two rural villages in southern Morocco.

They found that environmental location had a substantial effect on gene expression. However, further work is necessary to determine how these expression differences might be relevant to different health risks in urban and rural locations. The team also analyzed the genomes of the 194 individuals and found that there were a few hundred genetic variants that influenced gene expression levels in all sampled locations. The study shows that in addition to genetic factors, environmental factors also contribute to gene expression variation.

doi: 10.1038/ng.495

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