A team of Australian researchers has discovered a new gene with a critical role in the immune system and they are launching a public appeal to help name it.
CSIRO researcher Cameron Stewart said studying the gene — currently called C6orf106 or “C6” — could lead to new treatments for cancer, influenza and autoimmune diseases.
According to Dr Stewart and his colleagues, the gene probably evolved more than 500 million years ago in organisms much simpler than humans.
“We found the gene by studying viruses,” he said.
“Viruses can’t replicate on their own. They need host genes in order to do that.
“So we performed a comprehensive screening looking through the entire genome to identify human molecules that are important for virus growth.”
The process took about three years, working in a high-containment facility.
Dr Stewart and his colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in May and, because they identified the function of a gene that had not been studied before, they have the right to name it.
This week they launched a new website, where the public can nominate suggestions.
Dr Stewart said he was going into the process with his eyes open and knew it was just a matter of time before Genie McGeneface gets tossed up.
“I don’t mind it. Funny suggestions would be great,” he said.
“There is a body that does make the final decision so I don’t think Genie McGeneface is going to get up, but let’s see how many votes it gets in the first place.”
Genes could lead to new treatments
The CSIRO said the newly identified gene played a crucial role in regulating the body’s immune response to infection and disease.
The hope is the discovery could lead to the development of new treatments for a variety of serious diseases.
Rebecca Ambrose is a former CSIRO researcher — now based at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research — who co-authored the report on the discovery.
She said there was still much work to do when it came to understanding human genes.
“Even though the human genome was first fully sequenced in 2003, there are still thousands of genes that we know very little about,” she said.
“It’s exciting to consider that C6 has existed for more than 500 million years, preserved and passed down from simple organisms all the way to humans. But only now are we gaining insights into its importance.”
Dr Stewart echoed those sentiments and said it was an encouraging moment for his team, who work with some of the deadliest diseases on the planet.
“It is a high-containment lab and we do a lot of diagnostics work for very serious diseases, viral diseases that don’t have any cures and can infect humans,” he said.
“The idea of getting to name a gene or being the first one to discover its function, especially an important gene like this with roles in cancer and autoimmunity, it’s very fulfilling and it’s one of the reasons scientists love their job.”