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What is a Candidate Gene?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A candidate gene is a gene suspected to be involved with a particular disease, condition, or abnormality. Researchers find candidate genes through a painstaking process which involves sifting through large amounts of genetic material to identify genes and determine what they do. Once a candidate gene can be positively linked with a specific medical subject of interest, researchers can start to explore the variations in the gene and the way in which it acts on the body.

To find a candidate gene, researchers first identify the area of a particular chromosome which they believe is involved in the process of a genetic condition. Then, they look for specific genes within that area to see if they can find a gene which might be a likely suspect. Researchers may use information about the protein product of a particular gene to find out whether or not it is a candidate gene; protein products are the molecules which are constructed using the information in a gene.

Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

Candidate gene mapping is a lengthy process. Many researchers use algorithms to narrow down possibilities, rather than trying to plow through genetic information manually. Once possibilities are identified, they can be subjected to analysis to determine whether or not they are candidate genes. Given the huge number of genetic conditions, paired with genes which are found in everybody, identifying candidate genes is a bit like looking for a very small needle in an extremely large haystack.

Finding candidate genes is important. From a pure research level, scientists are interested in finding out precisely what is responsible for various genetic conditions, and how defective genes cause people to develop inherited diseases and other abnormalities. Researchers are also interested in the interactions between defective genes, how defective genes develop, and the evolutionary history of such genes. Some harmful genetic conditions are related to adaptations which were originally designed to help people thrive in harsh environments, for example.

From the perspective of patient care, the ability to identify the genes involved in disease processes can be useful in diagnosis, as patients can be tested to determine whether or not they carry the gene responsible for a condition. People can also undergo genetic testing to see if they are at risk of passing on dangerous genetic material to their children. Theoretically, it may be possible to manipulate harmful genes to turn them off or alter their expression so that people with these genes will not experience the medical conditions associated with them.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


This is very interesting! If candidate genes help determine where and what the gene mutation is that causes these diseases, hopefully that makes scientists one step closer to finding a cure for these diseases!

I have mental illness in my genes, so it is nice to know that scientists are spending lots of time trying to figure out answers and hopefully solutions to these issues.

Has there been any research about how to alter/manipulate these candidate genes, so that future generations do not have to deal with these potential life-threatening and horrible diseases any longer? If there is a way to alter candidate genes, what are the potential risks of these procedures? What is the rate of success if these procedures have been done?

Education is important, but not as important as helping people. Any research that does not involve bettering the people, should not be used from the people's hard earned money.


After a candidate gene is shown to be the gene that is causing a certain health condition, what happens next?

Can scientists make changes to the genes so that they don't cause these health conditions? Aren't there any bad side effects of doing that?

I am excited about these studies, but unless we can do something about it, I don't see the point of spending all this money and effort on it. I'm also curious about if candidate gene studies can help prevent the disorders from reappearing in future generations.


I think that studying candidate genes is really interesting. I read an article the other day that talked about how researchers have found a candidate gene that might be responsible for schizophrenia and mood disorders. They noticed that the same gene appeared to be different than usual in many patients that had these disorders.

The best part about their research is that it revealed how different mental disorders have the same source. Apparently, doctors thought that for example, depression and bi-polar syndrome are caused by different things. It turns out that they are actually caused by problems in the same exact gene.

So not only can we figure out which gene causes what, but we can also learn more about these illnesses and disorders as well.


I've heard about candidate genes in the news before. It usually comes up when there is a program or news about genetic research and sometimes it's groundbreaking news because scientists have been able to pin down on the gene that causes a disease. It's always exciting to know that we are going further in this type of research because it's the first step to finding cures for genetic diseases.

I did not realize until I read this article that this is such a hard task though. I have a lot of respect for scientists who are working on these research projects for years and looking through so many details with the hope of finding something. I hope that we can develop better ways of sorting through candidate genes in the future so that the process can go smoother and faster.

I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to do all this work and not have results. I guess it's the nature of genetic work, it's amazing stuff, but also very complicated and difficult.

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