Saturday, April 5, 2008

What are genetic markers?

Markers themselves usually consist of DNA that does not contain a gene, however they can tell a researcher the identity of the person a DNA sample came from. This makes markers extremely valuable for tracking inheritance of traits through generations of a family, and markers have also proven useful in criminal investigations and other forensic applications.

Although there are several different types of genetic markers, the type most used on genetic maps today is known as a microsatellite map. However, maps of even higher resolution are being constructed using single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced "snips"). Both types of markers are easy to use with automated laboratory equipment, so researchers can rapidly map a disease or trait in a large number of family members.

The development of high-resolution, easy-to-use genetic maps, coupled with the HGP's successful sequencing and physical mapping of the entire human genome, has revolutionized genetics research. The improved quality of genetic data has reduced the time required to identify a gene from a period of years to, in many cases, a matter of months or even weeks. Genetic mapping data generated by the HGP's laboratories is freely accessible to scientists through databases maintained by the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine's National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [].

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