If there is one thing that recent advances in genomics have revealed, it is that our genes are interrelated, "chattering" to each other across separate chromosomes and vast stretches of DNA. According to researchers at The Wistar Institute, many of these complex associations may be explained in part by the three-dimensional structure of the entire genome. A given cell's DNA spends most of its active lifetime in a tangled clump of chromosomes, which positions groups of related genes near to each other and exposes them to the cell's gene-controlling machinery. This structure, the researchers say, is not merely the shape of the genome, but also a key to how it works.
Their study, published online as a featured article in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, is the first to combine microscopy with advanced genomic sequencing techniques, enabling researchers to literally see gene interactions. It is also the first to determine the three-dimensional structure of the fission yeast genome, S. pombe. Applying this technique to the human genome may provide both scientists and physicians a whole new framework from which to better understand genes and disease, the researchers say.
"People are familiar with the X-shapes our chromosomes form during cell division, but what they may not realize is that DNA only spends a relatively small amount of time in that conformation," said Ken-ichi Noma, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Wistar's Gene Expression and Regulation program and senior author of the study. "Chromosomes spend the majority of their time clumped together in these large, non-random structures, and I believe these shapes reflect various nuclear processes such as transcription."
To map both individual genes and the overall structure of the genome, Noma and his colleagues combined next generation DNA sequencing with a technique called chromosome conformation capture (3C). They then used fluorescent probes to pinpoint the exact loca
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The Wistar Institute