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Fine-tuning the Face with Enhancers

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Gene disruptions that cause the severe dysmorphologies like cleft palate are one thing, but what causes the subtle shifts in facial morphology that make each human face unique? The developmental processes would need to encompass great diversity without causing great disruptions. Studying mice, Attanasio et al. have identified over 4000 candidate genetic enhancers around genes driving craniofacial development. Expression patterns determined for a subset of the candidate enhancers showed patterns of activation that were complex in developmental time and location. Overlapping patterns generated even greater complexity. Eschewing the challenge of recognizing individual mouse faces, the authors used micro-computed tomography to link changes in facial morphology with alterations in function of specific enhancers.

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