What Is a Marker Molecule?

Marker molecules, also known as molecular markers or genetic markers, are used to mark the position of a specific gene under investigation, or draw attention to the inheritance of a characteristic. They have proven an essential tool for geneticists and have found essential applications in genetic engineering, paternity tests and the identification of deadly diseases.

Definition of a Marker Molecule

Molecular markers are fragments of DNA which are associated with a particular region of the genome. Marker molecules can take the form of short DNA sequences, such as a sequence surrounding a single nucleotide polymorphism, where a single base-pair change occurs. They can also take the form of longer DNA sequences, such as microsatellites, which are 10 to 60 base pairs long.

Classes of Molecular Marker

Restriction fragment length polymorphisms are marker molecules that are used to follow a particular DNA sequence as it passes between cells. It is one of the most common types of molecular markers and is based on the hybridization of cloned DNA to DNA fragments. They are specific to a single clone or restriction enzyme combination. Randomly amplified polymorphic DNA molecular markers are generally used in plant breeding and are based on the polymer chain reaction gene cloning of random locations of a plants genome. Isozyme molecular markers are used to mark proteins. They are designed to identify enzymes that differ in amino acid sequences but catalyze the same amino acid reaction.

Uses of Marker Molecules

Molecular markers are used by geneticists to examine the relationship between hereditary diseases and their causes. They can indicate the location of a specific mutation of a gene that may result in an impaired protein and have been used to identify such diseases as sickle cell anemia and Huntington's disease. Molecular markers can also have agricultural applications, such as in marker assisted breeding, in paternity tests and in plant variety identification, by identifying a plant's identity, purity and stability.

Genetic Engineering

Molecular markers are used in genetic engineering to mark a where a defective, mutated proteins have been replaced by correctly functioning ones. This is carried out by replacing the damaged DNA sequence with an identical but correctly functioning sequence transplanted from elsewhere. Less than 1 percent of cells generally take up the vector, so a molecular marker is essential to distinguish the cells which have been transformed.

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About the Author

Cathel Hutchison began editing and writing in 2007 and has worked with various institutions and publishers, including editing courses for the Open University and captioning for the cultural archive "Am Baile." Hutchison holds a Master of Letters in history from the University of Aberdeen and a Master of Arts in American studies from the University of Edinburgh.