On 22nd April Fifth Sense visited the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to meet geneticist Dr Darren Logan and his colleague Gabi Gurria. Many of our followers will have heard of Darren as he spoke at the Fifth Sense Charity Launch in March. His and Gabi’s work at the Sanger Institute is focused on understanding the genetics of behaviour, and how the sense of smell influences behaviour.
Much of the work that Darren’s team do involves studying the behaviour of mice, and how they respond to olfactory stimuli. For example, one such experience involved placing a drop of male mouse urine at a particular point in a cage. A female mouse was then released in to the cage, and made its way to the part of the cage where the urine was, attracted by the smell of the male mouse. When the same mouse was then released in to a cage without any urine, multiple times, it made its way to exactly the same spot. Thus, both behaviour and memory was influenced by the sense of smell.
Darren and his team aren’t just interested in olfaction in mice, however; they are also interested in how research in this area can potentially benefit smell disorder sufferers in future. For example, by studying the genes turned on in the nose of post-viral anosmia (PVOL) sufferers and comparing to that of people with a functional sense of smell, can gene expression patterns be detected in patients with PVOL? As Darren explained, though, seeing patterns is one thing, but understanding why and how these occur is another, given that we still at the very beginning of learning how our genes make us who we are.
‘You can think of a gene expression pattern like a barcode for a particular cell or tissue in a healthy state (where each of 37,000 genes is on or off). If the cell or tissue is infected or damaged, the pattern will change – as will the barcode. Thus we may be able to spot a barcode that is characteristic of PVOL. The next phase is to ask which genes are differently expressed between the healthy and damaged tissues – as this may provide clues into how and why it is damaged and how it might be treated.’
The second part of our visit involved a tour of the Sanger Institute, which included a visit to the labs where DNA is sequenced to create complete sequences, or genomes. These are then stored so they can be analysed by the researchers at the Institute whose work encompasses many aspects of biomedics.
For more information on Darren’s work, visit http://www.sanger.ac.uk/research/faculty/dlogan/
To read about the Human Genome Project, the first time that the human genome was sequenced in its entirety, visit http://www.sanger.ac.uk/about/history/hgp/