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LSU Genetics Lab Contributes to 1000 Genome Project

When you think "mutant," you probably think of Magneto from the X-Men. But if you ask Dr. Mark Batzer, a biology professor at LSU, he might start talking about Barbara McClintock, who discovered transposons in 1953. She won a Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery.

Transposons have been "a real interesting enigma in science, in that no one has understood what their function is, or better yet all of the impacts that they have," Dr. Batzer says. But we do know that they are everywhere in the human genome—they make up more than 20% of it by weight. And that ubiquity has a big effect on human health.

There's some evidence that transposons' movement around the genome has caused inherited disorders, and some kinds of cancer. But the rapid mutation hasn't been all bad: humans and other primates' cells have slightly different surface structures because of transposons, and Betzer says that small difference in structure has made humans less susceptible to pathogens like streptococcus.

Batzer's research into transposons uses data from the 1000 Genome Project, which has sequenced over twenty-five hundred genomes from around the world. It's a scientific first, and all of the data is available online for free at 1000 Genome Project's website.