Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have charted out a genetic map that has led to the discovery of hot spots of the genes involved in type 2 diabetes and other common illnesses.
They have generated a complete map of the areas of the genome that control which genes are "turned on" or "off."
"Most of the human genome is uncharted territory - entire stretches of sequence with no clear function or purpose," Nature magazine quoted Dr Jason Lieb, associate professor of biology at UNC, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Centre and one of the senior authors of the study as saying.
"In fact, the majority of the DNA sequences associated with disease found thus far reside in the middle of nowhere.
"Here we have developed a map that can guide scientists to regions of the genome that do appear to be functionally relevant, instead of a dead end," Lieb added.
Lieb said his map is likely to help others within the diabetes research community identify new targets for understanding - and ultimately treating - the disease more effectively.
Using a new method developed in the Lieb laboratory called FAIRE-seq, Lieb and his colleagues isolated and sequenced a total of 80,000 open chromatin sites within pancreatic islet cells.
They then compared these sites to those in non-islet cells to narrow the number down to 3,300 clusters of sites specific to this cell type. Each cluster typically encompassed single genes that are active specifically in islet cells.
Twenty of these genes are known to harbor gene variants associated with type II diabetes.
The research is published online in journal Nature Genetics.