Until recently, as much as 98 percent of the human genome was thought to be nonfunctional. However, these noncoding parts of DNA, sometimes called “junk DNA” or the “dark genome,” can play a key role in disease development.
There is still much to learn about the noncoding parts of the genome. The McLaughlin lab at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute (PNRI) studies how diseases develop from the movement of retroelements, a major portion of the noncoding parts of the genome.
Retroelements – also referred to as “jumping genes” – are bits of virus-like DNA that have the ability to replicate by inserting themselves into new sites in our chromosomes. This process can cause genetic diseases, including cancer. The McLaughlin lab studies how retroelements evolve to thrive in our genome and how our genes evolve to stop those disruptions.
Our unconventional approach to genetic research holds the power to uncover new mechanisms of disease and disease resistance within parts of the genome that are still a vast mystery to scientists.
Learn about the latest news from the lab: