Review Articles

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  • The Hox gene cluster has a crucial function in body patterning during animal development. How and when this gene cluster originated is being clarified by recent data from Cnidaria, a basal animal phylum. The characterization of Hox-like genes from Hydra, sea anemones and jellyfish has revealed that a Hox gene cluster is extremely ancient, having originated even before the divergence of these basal animals.

    • David E. K. Ferrier
    • Peter W. H. Holland
    Review Article
  • Variation is the crux of genetics. Mutagenesis screens in organisms from bacteria to fish have provided a battery of mutants that define protein functions within complex pathways. Large-scale mutation isolation has been carried out in Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila melanogaster and zebrafish, and has been recently reported in the mouse in two screens that have generated many new, clinically relevant mutations to reveal the power of phenotype-driven screens in a mammal.

    • Monica J. Justice
    Review Article
  • Chemical genetics is the study of gene-product function in a cellular or organismal context using exogenous ligands. In this approach, small molecules that bind directly to proteins are used to alter protein function, enabling a kinetic analysis of the in vivo consequences of these changes. Recent advances have strongly enhanced the power of exogenous ligands such that they can resemble genetic mutations in terms of their general applicability and target specificity. The growing sophistication of this approach raises the possibility of its application to any biological process.

    • Brent R. Stockwell
    Review Article
  • East Asia is one of the few regions in the world where a relatively large number of human fossils have been unearthed — a discovery that has been taken as evidence for an independent local origin of modern humans outside of Africa. However, genetic studies conducted in the past ten years, especially using Y chromosomes, have provided unequivocal evidence for an African origin of East Asian populations. The genetic signatures present in diverse East Asian populations mark the footsteps of prehistoric migrations that occurred tens of thousands of years ago.

    • Li Jin
    • Bing Su
    Review Article
  • During development it is not sufficient for cells to differentiate properly — they must also become physically grouped into appropriate structures, to form skin on the outside, and blood and muscle on the inside. How does this three-dimensional patterning occur? One classic explanation for this resolution of cells and tissues into distinct three-dimensional structures has been that as cells differentiate, they develop differential adhesive properties, and that these affinity differences allow cells to sort out from one another. This classic hypothesis is being investigated with increasing intensity, as recent work on the Drosophila wing and the vertebrate brain has shown that signalling between tissues is essential for the establishment of differential affinities.

    • Helen McNeill
    Review Article
  • The art and science of gene therapy has received much attention of late. The tragic death of 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger, a volunteer in a Phase I clinical trial, has overshadowed the successful treatment of three children suffering from a rare but fatal immunological disease. In the light of the success and tragedy, it is timely to consider the challenges faced by gene therapy — a novel form of molecular medicine that may be poised to have an important impact on human health in the new millennium.

    • Nikunj Somia
    • Inder M. Verma
    Review Article
  • Genomic DNA is often thought of as the stable template of heredity, largely dormant and unchanging, apart from perhaps the occasional point mutation. But it has become increasingly clear that DNA is dynamic rather than static, being subjected to rearrangements, insertions and deletions. Much of this plasticity can be attributed to transposable elements and their genomic relatives.

    • Eline T. Luning Prak
    • Haig H. Kazazian Jr
    Review Article