DATABASE: The Many Faces of Immunity

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Science  05 Mar 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5663, pp. 1445
DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5663.1445a

The HLA genes help the immune system discern friend from foe and underlie the rejection of organ transplants. This cadre of genes, which belong to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), has also drawn interest from anthropologists tracing human migrations and epidemiologists trying to understand the genetic basis of autoimmune diseases. dbMHC, a year-old site from the National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland, offers plenty of information for anyone who works with MHC genes and proteins in the lab or the clinic.

MHC genes come in a multitude of forms, or alleles. For example, researchers have identified more than 250 alleles for the HLA-A gene. dbMHC lets you compare different protein versions in 3D and browse the DNA sequences of their genes. The site can also help users select or create typing kits and probes to identify which MHC variants a person carries. A new section lists the frequencies of different MHC alleles in more than 70 populations from places such as Australia, Uganda, and Ireland.

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