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Two independent teams of researchers have come up with the most accurate genetic maps ever made — a feat that should make the search for genes associated with diseases easier.

To understand why an accurate genetic map is useful, imagine you are trying to locate a house in Topeka, Kan., but the only map you have is one of the Interstate Highway System. You could probably find Topeka, but finding the specific house you want would take a lot of trial and error.

That’s basically the situation researchers find themselves in when they are searching for a particular gene in the long stretches of DNA that make up our chromosomes. The trick to making a genetic map is to make road signs in DNA to tell you where you are.

John Novembre, a geneticist at UCLA, says one way to make road signs is to look for what are called recombination events.

“What you’re trying to do is identify locations along the chromosome where the DNA that a person inherits from their mother is different from the DNA they inherited from their father,” Novembre says.

And where that switch in a strand of DNA from one parent’s DNA to the other parent’s DNA occurs is called a recombination event.

But recombinations do not occur evenly across our genetic material, says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School. Rather, he says, “they occur in very small hot spots.” These specific hot spots become the road signs along the chromosomes that the researchers used to create the new genetic maps.

If all of this is a scary reminder of what you didn’t quite understand from high school biology, don’t worry. The point is that the map helps geneticists find their way.

Reich and his colleagues at Oxford University in England are publishing their map in Nature; Novembre and his UCLA colleagues published in Nature Genetics.

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Source: Joe Palca, NPR

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