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B. A Gene that Controls a Cell's Life or Death Switch

Narrator: This is Science Today. Everyday, a large number of our cells are committing a preprogrammed process of cell suicide, or apoptosis. It's a process that's essential to life, as it kills off dangerous, toxic cells or those, which if not stopped, will go on to become cancer. But it's a delicate balance, as too much cell death leads to degenerative diseases. Now, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have discovered a new gene that controls this life or death switch. Molecular biologist Joel Rothman led the team.

Rothman: If we eliminated the function of this particular gene, which we call ICD-1, for Inhibitor of Cell Death Gene 1, that resulted in widespread cell death. In fact, we were able to cause what is very much like a neurodegenerative disease of the type that occurs in humans.

Narrator: This finding led to the further discovery of up to one hundred similar genes.

Rothman: Some of the genes that we've identified themselves are already known to be involved in degenerative diseases and in cancer.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.