Their work appears online May 6 in advance of publication in the journal Nature Methods.
Fruit flies are well suited for chromosome studies because some of their cells contain gigantic, "polytene" chromosomes, each built up of more than 1,000 parallel copies of DNA strands. When stained, condensed, dark bands and lighter regions (interbands) give the chromosomes a striped appearance.
For more than 70 years, cytogeneticists have used a hand-drawn map of the bands of fruit fly polytene chromosomes, with the shape and location of these structures only vaguely delineated. This map, first published in 1935, and generations of light and electron micrographs have yielded an imprecise guide to the chromosomes.
Traditional methods of chromosome preparation have limited usefulness for those hoping to sort out how the bands and interbands relate to the underlying genetic sequence, said cell and developmental biology research specialist Dmitri Novikov, who developed the new technique. The genome of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, was sequenced in 2000, and yet its relationship to chromosome structure remains unclear.
"Since we want to know what genes are involved in the development of different structures in living systems, this is the first structure to look at," Novikov said. "This is the starting point: the appearance of the genes themselves."
Cell and developmental biology professor and lead investigator Andrew S. Belmont and visiting scientist Igor Kireev, of Moscow State University, are co-authors on the paper. Belmont is in the U. of I. Institute for Genomic Biology and the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology.<