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As an example, this Scientific American article describes a known area in the dog genome that metabolizes carbohydrates.

How is it that researchers are able to determine specific functions such as this?

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Lots of ways. Gene knockout, gain of function, biochemical assays, etc... –  LanceLafontaine Mar 29 '13 at 3:36
    
@LanceLafontaine if you have a more detailed answer, please submit it as an answer rather than a comment. –  Jeff Axelrod Mar 29 '13 at 17:33

1 Answer 1

@LanceLafontaine suggested a few ways above, but I would recommend reading this section in Alberts' Molecular Biology of the Cell, which gives a more descriptive overview of some approaches, but even that is not exhaustive.

An extremely simplistic and also not exhaustive summary:

  1. observe mutants, see what processes are disrupted, and map these back to particular mutations
  2. mutate a gene and see what processes are disrupted
  3. biochemical studies to see, for example, which proteins (which are gene products) interact in vivo and things like where they're localized, which may hint at function.
  4. analyze structure of proteins, see how similar they are to other proteins with known function, and infer that the protein of interest probably has a similar function

EDIT: The link to Alberts is to the 2002 edition (which is free online; the latest edition of the textbook costs around $200), so things have come a long way since then, but the underlying approaches are still in use.

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