The Edmond Sun

November 1, 2013

The Genome Registry contributes to science

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — The proper name of a gene often fades from memory for most people after hearing the name spoken for the first time, said James Bidlack, Ph.D. vice president of research and chief science officer of The Genome Registry.

“I thought this would be neat if somebody gets a gene named after them,” Bidlack said. “Maybe they’ll go on the Internet or to the library and go find out about their gene.”

Bidlack is passionate about getting people excited about science. He is also a professor of biology and CURE-STEM Scholar at the University of Central Oklahoma.

The Genome Registry is the official registry of genome pseudonyms, said Hal Stevens, president and CEO. He is known as a pioneer in setting up networking equipment.

Stevens developed the concept for a genome registry in 2001 and approached Bidlack a year ago to help create the company and be responsible for assigning the genes. The growth of genomics on the Internet will bring opportunities for business and research growth, Stevens said.

“What I would love for The Genome Registry to have is the one place that people go first to find out about what would be a popular gene,” Bidlack said.

Biologists are skeptics, Bidlack said. So he was skeptical at first. Stevens told him that The Genome Registry would be similar to the International Star Registry, which enables people to name a star after somebody.

“And then it dawned on me. I thought, ‘That’s kind of neat because it would get people interested in genetics,’” Bidlack said.

People want to be able to say for Valentine’s Day that they bought their sweetheart a Rose Gene, or for Christmas, a Christmas Tree gene, Stevens said. One of Bidlack’s coworkers at UCO told him she was interested in buying a gene for her husband of the backside of a horse, Bidlack said. How about a toe gene?

The cost of purchasing a pseudonym gene begins at $39.                                                                Sales are based on a species. Finding a gene is easy by accessing the National Institutes of Health, Bidlack said. Selecting a pseudonym for a gene allows The Genome Registry to be legal, he continued.

“What’s tough is a lot of those genes are what’s called ‘conserved,’” Bidlack said. “And what that means is, it’s the same gene, and it probably has the same code, a very similar DNA sequence from one species to the next. In fact, I would bet a majority of the genes are the same from one organism to the next.”

More than 90 percent of human genes are called introns, non-coding genes that are not used, as opposed to exons, which is the portion of active genes, Bidlack said. Introns may have once been useful to human ancestors, he said.

“You have the DNA that encodes for a tail,” Bidlack said. “You actually do have a tail when you’re in your mother’s womb.”

 Humans only encode with 20,000-30,000 genes, he said. The C. elegans (worm) shares the majority of its genes with humans, making it an effective tool for basic bio-medical research, Bidlack said.

“About 99 percent of the genes in chimpanzees are the same as they are in humans,” Bidlack said.

About 14 billion different genes are estimated in the world, Bidlack said. About three-fourths of these genes are shared in different organisms, he added.

“Hence, the best approach for doing these gene assignments is to have the species and the gene,” Bidlack said.

The Genome Registry will also invest in the scientific community such as Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta), which is a national biological honor society that helps to support students dedicated to biological research study. A portion of money of each gene sold will support the undergraduate research.

“We just started talking to NABT, the National Association for Biology Teachers,” Bidlack said. “They’re all about education.”

Contributions by the registry will also support habitat conservation by the Wildlife Habitat Council, Bidlack said. The WHC works for the preservation of all wildlife species. Oklahoma has a diverse ecological system with wildlife and prairie preservation, he said.

“We must donate money back into the profession, back to the people doing the research,” Bidlack said.

TO LEARN more about The Genome Registry, go to | 341-2121