WORCESTER, MA Using three dimensional modeling techniques, advanced computer simulation and next generation sequencing technology, faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have resolved a long-standing debate that has consumed scientists ever since chromosomes were first observed under the light microscope by Walther Flemming in 1878.
In an article that appears in the online edition of Science, UMMS Professor Job Dekker, PhD, and colleagues show new evidence for a general principal of condensed, mitotic chromosome organization and structure that is highly adaptable and common to all cells. This new insight into how chromosomes are disassembled and reassembled during cell division will allow researchers to begin answering basic questions about epigenetic inheritance, as well as human disease such as chromosome disorders and cancer.
"Over the last several decades there have been conflicting theories for how the DNA is organized inside these chromosomes," said Dr. Dekker, co-director of the Program in Systems Biology at UMMS and senior author of the Science study. "We now have a model that incorporates this seemingly contradictory data and points to a single and simple process for condensed chromosome organization across all cell types. With this knowledge, we can begin asking very specific questions about how inheritance works and what happens when the process goes awry."
One of the most widely recognized biological structures in the cell, the tightly wound and elongated chromosome with its classic X-shaped structure can be easily discerned under a microscope and has been a common image in text books and popular scientific literature for decades. Despite this prevalence, technical limitations in microscopic studies have led to competing models for how the DNA is organized inside these chromosomes.
In its normal state, a cell's DNA is
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University of Massachusetts Medical School