Also called “jumping genes,” retroelements in our noncoding or junk DNA move and reinsert themselves into new places in our chromosomes. This extraordinary ability gives these genes a unique potential to cause diseases, such as autoimmune disorders and certain forms of cancer. While retroelements evolve to thrive in our genome, our genes can also evolve elaborate systems to block the disruptions caused by their “jumping.”
The McLaughlin Lab works to expose these systems and their workings, also exposing new paths to understanding disease susceptibility and resistance, including how to expand and strengthen the immune system in those affected by autoimmunity and other genetic diseases.
There is still much to learn about the mysterious and plentiful noncoding parts of the genome. Dr. Rick McLaughlin and his team embrace a curiosity-driven approach, finding beauty in complexity, and expanding the possibilities for basic science to be applied to fascinating questions in human health.
“There’s so much cool biology out there,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “You have to find something that you’re motivated by, that really digs into your soul…that makes you want to build this team around you to figure out how to solve these both important and challenging problems.”