Machine Intelligence Cracks Genetic Controls

Featured in WIRED.com, December 29, 2014

EVERY CELL IN your body reads the same genome, the DNA-encoded instruction set that builds proteins. But your cells couldn’t be more different. Neurons send electrical messages, liver cells break down chemicals, muscle cells move the body. How do cells employ the same basic set of genetic instructions to carry out their own specialized tasks? The answer lies in a complex, multilayered system that controls how proteins are made.

Most genetic research to date has focused on just 1 percent of the genome—the areas that code for proteins. But new research, published Dec. 18 in Science, provides an initial map for the sections of the genome that orchestrate this protein-building process. “It’s one thing to have the book—the big question is how you read the book,” said Brendan Frey, a computational biologist at the University of Toronto who led the new research.