Good morning everyone,
In our lab this term, we have talked numerous times about the 'central dogma of information flow', the idea that information encoded in DNA is used during the process of transcription to make RNA, which itself is used during translation to make protein. This concept is part of the 'one gene, one protein' idea, that each gene encodes information to make a single type of protein.
During our discussions, we've also used estimates of the number of genes that we possess (perhaps 25,000), and our most recent lab included discussion of how effective any single one of them may be in influencing phenotype. Most individual genes are likely to have little or no obvious effects on phenotype, while some 'master regulator' genes, or other single genes that are responsible for the production of a key molecule in a cell, may exert more-pronounced effects.
In the news this week comes description of one such gene (gene FAAH, so called), which had been identified previously but whose function was unknown. It is now known that it is a crucial player in mammalian pain perception, for a woman has been described who has led a 'pain-free' life, and who has a genetic mutation in this one gene. Interestingly, this mutation also influences mood - she is described as never feeling anxiety as well.
While pain is unpleasant, do not wish for none of it, for it is a useful 'warning system' that alerts us to tissue damage. There have been others described who 'feel no pain', and their existence is pretty awful, for they experience injury after injury (many of them self-inflicted). Much of their story was described in a superb documentary from a few years ago, entitled A Life Without Pain - if you are interested in the topic, it is very worthwhile.
The subject in this most recent report is mostly, but not entirely pain-free, so her life is mostly normal. But, her case illustrates well the potential power of individual genes. They need not always be 'master regulators' to have individually-profound effects. Sometimes, being just a single link in an important chain is crucial.
Have a great weekend -