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Home > ARRA Stories > Understanding How Biotin Suppresses `Jumping Genes`
Understanding How Biotin Suppresses `Jumping Genes`
Photo of Janos Zempleni

Janos Zempleni

Some genes tend to jump around in our DNA, inserting themselves where they can cause trouble. Eating foods with enough biotin can help keep these "jumping genes" in place.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln nutrition scientist Janos Zempleni has made important discoveries about how biotin suppresses jumping genes, which may one day lead to better prevention of some cancers and chromosomal abnormalities.

He recently received a two-year $535,463 grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to further his research.

Nearly half of the human genome is made of tiny fragments of DNA that can move around. Most of these — called transposons or jumping genes — are no longer active, but at least 50 genes are known to have the potential to move around in the genome.

If a jumping gene inserts itself in the middle of a vital gene, it can disrupt its function, which can be lethal or lead to abnormalities. Or a jumping gene can increase cancer risk by either deactivating a tumor-suppressing gene or activating an oncogene, a gene that can contribute to cancer. If a jumping occurs in sperm or egg DNA, the chromosomal damage may be passed to the embryo.

Biotin, a B vitamin found in foods such as breads and egg yolks, helps to suppress jumping genes. Using a well-studied fruit fly species as a model, Zempleni discovered that histones, proteins that act as spools for DNA winding, bind biotin and are important for genome stability.

"The binding of biotin through histones depends on the dietary intake of biotin," said Zempleni, adding that biotin deficiency is common in the United States, particularly among pregnant women who metabolize biotin more quickly.

ARRA funding has allowed Zempleni to further his research by studying how this biotin binding process contributes to genome stability. He was able to hire a new postdoctoral fellow and full-time technician, and retain a half-time technician with the ARRA grant. He also received an additional $60,000 ARRA-funded grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to purchase equipment that will enable him to purify proteins more quickly and effectively.

This article originally appeared on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln website. Reposted with permission.

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