Web app IDs mutations that will be trouble; ignores chance to create X-Men, superpowers

Web app Spliceman is a legitimate DNA research aide, not X-Men mutation-design tool dammit

Free app promises to identify if mutation will lead to trouble

If you spent a lot of time watching the X-Men movie marathon on cable this weekend, you may find it was time wasted – at least when it comes to identifying genetic mutations and mutants likely to cause trouble in the future.

Researchers at Brown University have posted a Web-based application called Spliceman that is designed to identify genetic mutations likely to disrupt the process of replicating segments of genetic material and splicing them into strings of messengerRNA that produce proteins required for other critical processes in the human body.

Sample: Punk. Problem with authority. Makes and throws fire but can't start it without a Zippo? Bad attitude? Trouble? Yes.

DNA provides the patterns and orders to splice mRNA strings into combinations that will produce specific proteins.

As many as a third of the disease-causing mutations in the Human Genome Mutation Database create disease by interrupting the splicing process or forcing it to create errors.

Sample: Blue man, no group. Bad sideburns, no fist-claws. Prissy baritone voice, sounds like it's sending a glass of water back to the kitchen for being insufficiently je ne se qua. Trouble? No. Annoying? Yes

Spliceman works by identifying DNA "words," strings of letters identified as points on the DNA helix, noting how far it is from one of 20 or so splice sites on the DNA strand and how likely it would be to create erroneous splices or interrupt the splicing of other strands.

It works with the genomes of 11 animals – including chimpanzees, monkeys, mice, rats, dogs, chickens, zebra fish and humans (though not super-powerful psychics, laser-eyed nerds or shape-shifters who disguise themselves as less attractive organisms.

Sample: Man's man, (unclear how that's meant) Working class regular guy from Anyplace, Australia via Broadway. Pulls it off more effectively than Zoolander in the mines. Big-claw exhibitionist. Career unkillable even through overexposure. Trouble? No. Unless director says to wear a shirt.

The researchers, led by graduate student Kian Huat Lim and assistant professor of biology William Fairbrother, published an Application Note announcing the app; a paper describing its design and use by medical geneticists studying problematic gene expressions will be published in the April edition of Bioinformatics.

Sample: Woman with look that makes clouds quake. Also controls the weather, wears skin-tights well enough to make up for rest of the cast; wears cape without looking like Dracula or a kid with a Superman blanket tucked in neck of fuzzy PJs. Trouble? Worth it.

Spliceman is available free here, though playing with it requires some knowledge of DNA structures and mRNA splicing. It relentlessly resists providing information that could lead to creation of any really interesting mutants no matter how much money the movies made.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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