Word of the Day: Gene Expression

Gene expression is the conversion of information encoded in a gene first into messenger RNA and then to a protein. This is the process by which our physical traits display themselves! Here’s a fantastic animated video of how a gene becomes a protein.

What is messenger RNA? What is a protein? Click the links to read more about these basic terms.

Gene expression is a hot field. The human genome contains approximately 21,000 genes. The Human Genome Project in the 1990s showed us what the genetic code was for those genes, but it still did not tell us everything that our genes actually do. This is a much more compelx and ongoing area of study for scientists.

Therefore, studying gene expression lets scientists know what it is that our genes do. When a gene “does” something, this means that it is “expressed.” When a gene is encoded into a protein, that protein usually does a specific job. It could be an enzyme for a particular chemical reaction, or a structural molecule for a particular tissue or organ, or a chemical signal that allows two cells to communicate in your body. It can mean the difference between a process happening or not happening. It can determine how you look, act, and think. Gene expression is the study of how your genes make you YOU!

Gene expression can be measured using a variety of tools. One such tool is called a microarray. Click here to read more about microarrays and how they work.

Gene expression can also be measured using a process called Northern Blot that quantifies the amount of messenger RNA present in a sample. Read more about Northern Blot here, on the excellent science laboratory techniques blog called BiteSize Bio.

Another method of measuring gene expression is to measure the amount of a certain protein that is produced, using a technique called Western Blot. Read more about Western Blot here, on the excellent science laboratory techniques blog called BiteSize Bio.