A new tool, developed at the North Carolina State University, will help researchers identify the minute changes in DNA patterns that lead to cancer, Huntington's disease and a host of other genetic disorders.
The tool can translate DNA sequences into graphic images, which allows researchers to distinguish genetic patterns more quickly and efficiently than was historically possible using computers.
David Cox, a Ph.D. student in computer science at NC State, devised the "symbolic scatter plot" tool to provide a visual representation of a DNA sequence. Cox explains, "The human visual system is more adept at identifying patterns, and differentiating between patterns, than existing computer programs such as those that try to identify repetitions of DNA sequences." In other words, the naked eye sees patterns better than computers can.
Identifying patterns in a sequence of DNA is important because it can help researchers identify the minute genetic variations between subjects that suffer from a disease, such as cancer, and subjects that do not.
"Improved identification of relevant DNA sequences will hopefully expedite the development of successful treatment for a range of diseases," Cox says, "by allowing researchers to focus on the components of DNA that are related to the disease and improving our understanding of the genetic mechanisms of these diseases. For example, what turns specific genes on and off?"