A new study has revealed that variations in non-coding sections of the genome might be important contributors to type 2 diabetes risk.
DNA sequences that don't encode proteins were once dismissed as "junk DNA", but scientists are increasingly discovering that some regions are important for controlling which genes are switched on.
The new study is one of the first to show how such regions, called regulatory elements, can influence people's risk of disease.
Many studies have identified regions of the genome where variations are linked to diabetes risk, but the function of many of these regions is unknown, making it difficult for scientists to glean insights into how and why the disease develops.
" Non-coding DNA, or junk DNA as it is sometimes known, is the dark matter of the genome. We're only just beginning to unravel what it does," lead author Professor Jorge Ferrer, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said.
In the new study scientists mapped the regulatory elements that orchestrate gene activity in the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
Co-author Mark McCarthy , a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator at the University of Oxford said this study provides some important clues to the mechanisms which are disturbed in the earliest stages of the development of type 2 diabetes, and may point the way to novel ways of treating and preventing the disease."
The study is published in journal Nature Genetics.