Scientific American: Our first view into the `blackout zones' of the human genome

Guest blog: Karen Miga

"Imagine opening Google Earth to find a large blackout zone roughly the size of Africa covering the surface of the globe. This region is completely unexplored and unknown. No satellite images exist, and our traditional mapping techniques cease to work here. Basic information about the general landscape is replaced only with darkened pixels. In a world where we can spend our lunch break staring at the surface of Mars or watching wind patterns swirl around the earth in real time, it is hard to imagine an uncharted zone of this scale. Undoubtedly, this would revitalize an exciting age of exploration, drum up media coverage and inspire modern adventurers. It seems unthinkable that we would allow this blackout zone to remain for 24 hours, let alone years.
While gaps of this size do not exist in our world maps, they are very present in our genomic map. Since the initial release of the human genome over a decade ago, researchers have extensively studied areas, accounting for roughly 8 percent of the genome, where data remains missing. These ‘blackout zones’ span millions of bases on each chromosome. To demonstrate this to scale, if Earth’s surface is 196.9 million square miles, we are talking about a group of blackout zones in the human genome that are collectively larger than Africa by 4 million square miles, or four times the size of the United States." -Karen Miga

Genomics Institute 

University of California, Santa Cruz

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