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Latent memory of cells comes to life

New Danish research has examined the mechanisms behind latent cell memory, which can come to life and cause previously non-existent capacities suddenly to appear. Special yeast cells for example, can abruptly change from being of a single sex to hermaphrodite.

Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen have used mathematical models and computer simulations to examine fundamental mechanisms of cell memory. The research is an interdisciplinary cooperation between molecular biologists and physicists and has just been published in the prestigious scientific journal CELL where it is featured on the cover page (article by Dodd et al., 18 May issue).

Dormant capacities

Our genetic material - DNA ?is a blueprint for how we look and are. This genetic material is very stable and it is faithfully transmitted to our descendants. Once in a while though, a change occurs to the DNA, either large or small. Such changes are at the origin of the immense and varied animal and plant life on earth. Constructive changes in the DNA, that is, changes creating new functions, normally arise by a slow and gradual process that involves natural selection operating over many generations.

Sometimes however, dramatic and very sudden changes are observed in one individual in the absence of any kind of change to the DNA. This happens in fact in all of us as our body develops: cells with identical genetic information adopt very different fates, forming tissues that have apparently very little in common with each other, such as skin, brain, or bones. Mechanisms at the origin of this so-called cellular differentiation are those for which researchers at the University of Copenhagen have a possible clarification.

”The explanation for the sudden changes is that it is not the DNA itself that is altered - it is its immediate surroundings that change and thereby cause a cell to activate some of its dormant capacities?says
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Source:University of Copenhagen


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