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Hum Genet. 2010 Mar;127(5):491-501. doi: 10.1007/s00439-010-0792-9. Epub 2010 Jan 23.

Selection and mutation in the "new" genetics: an emerging hypothesis.

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  • 1Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Jewish General Hospital, 3755 Cote Ste. Catherine Road, Montreal, QC H3T 1E2, Canada.


It has been anticipated that new, much more sensitive, next generation sequencing (NGS) techniques, using massively parallel sequencing, will likely provide radical insights into the genetics of multifactorial diseases. While NGS has been used initially to analyze individual human genomes, and has revealed considerable differences between healthy individuals, we have used NGS to examine genetic variation within individuals, by sequencing tissues "in depth", i.e., oversequencing many thousands of times. Initial studies have revealed intra-tissue genetic heterogeneity, in the form of multiple variants of a single gene that exist as distinct "majority and "minority" variants. This highly specialized form of somatic mosaicism has been found within both cancer and normal tissues. If such genetic variation within individual tissues is widespread, it will need to be considered as a significant factor in the ontogeny of many multifactorial diseases, including cancer. The discovery of majority and minority gene variants and the resulting somatic cell heterogeneity in both normal and diseased tissues suggests that selection, as opposed to mutation, might be the critical event in disease ontogeny. We, therefore, are proposing a hypothesis to explain multifactorial disease ontogeny in which pre-existing multiple somatic gene variants, which may arise at a very early stage of tissue development, are eventually selected due to changes in tissue microenvironments.

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