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6. The gene chip Gene chip shows which genes are active

The genetic material that comes out of the centrifuge is analyzed with a “gene chip,” a kind of cheat-sheet that tells us which particular genes are active in this mouse's tissue. The gene chip (example in the photo at right) looks like a miniature light board; the different colors and their level of brightness indicate the level of activity of certain genes.

Different mouse strains have different forms of genes, so laboratory comparisons can determine which gene variants are seen in, say, mice that like to drink a lot of alcohol, or mice who show more severe signs of withdrawal when they stop drinking. Of the 30,000 or so genes, a handful have important effects on drinking or withdrawal.

Typically, in the brain, groups of genes operate together to affect the chemical messages being sent back and forth between different parts of the brain. In turn, these chemical messages affect our behavior around substances like alcohol.

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