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Clemson Center for Human Genetics

GREENWOOD, South Carolina – Trudy Mackay and Robert Anholt of Clemson University’s Center for Human Genetics in Greenwood have received $1.87 million from the National Institutes of Health to advance research aimed at significantly increasing our fundamental understanding of the complex roles molecular variations play in human disease.

Human beings share 99.9 percent of all DNA (the carrier of genetic information), but the 0.1 percent that isn’t shared is what makes each person unique. Everyone’s genome (an organism’s complete set of DNA) contains millions of genetic variants that affect everything from lifespan to eye color.

In an irony of sorts, the invisible inner workings of Drosophila melanogaster, a fruit fly smaller than a grain of rice, appears to hold the key to unlocking huge mysteries that have puzzled geneticists for decades. About 70 percent of fly genes have human counterparts, enabling the construction of genetic networks that are comparable in makeup and scope. Mackay and Anholt use the flies to perform genome-wide association analysis, which studies genetic variants in large numbers of different individuals to see if any variant is associated with a distinguishing quality or characteristic.

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