at the Health Science Center are reporting a fundamental breakthrough—disruption
of gene function in the simplest self-reproducing cell known to science.
The cell, called Mycoplasma genitalium, causes several human health
problems, including urethritis and arthritis, and has been implicated in
Gulf War illnesses. Understanding gene function in this disease-causing
bacterium could lead to better diagnostic tools and treatments.
“This little guy consists
of fewer than 470 genes,” said Joel B. Baseman, Ph.D., professor and
chairman of the Department of Microbiology. “It is one-eighth the size
of the E. coli bacterium in terms of its genetic machinery. We are
reporting the first direct gene knockout of the smallest
For purposes of comparison,
the most complex life form on earth, the human being, is made up of
billions of cells, each containing an estimated 100,000 genes.
Scientists use the term
“gene knockout” to indicate that the expression or activity of a gene