Origin of phenotypes: Genes and transcripts
While the concept of a gene has been helpful in defining the relationship of a portion of a genome to a phenotype, this traditional term may not be as useful as it once was. Currently, “gene” has come to refer principally to a genomic region producing a polyadenylated mRNA that encodes a protein. However, the recent emergence of a large collection of unannotated transcripts with apparently little protein coding capacity, collectively called transcripts of unknown function (TUFs), has begun to blur the physical boundaries and genomic organization of genic regions with noncoding transcripts often overlapping protein-coding genes on the same (sense) and opposite strand (antisense). Moreover, they are often located in intergenic regions, making the genic portions of the human genome an interleaved network of both annotated polyadenylated and nonpolyadenylated transcripts, including splice variants with novel 5′ ends extending hundreds of kilobases. This complex transcriptional organization and other recently observed features of genomes argue for the reconsideration of the term “gene” and suggests that transcripts may be used to define the operational unit of a genome.