All access genome

Thu, 2011-10-13

While efforts to unlock the subtleties of DNA have produced remarkable insights into the code of life, researchers still grapple with fundamental questions. For example, the underlying mechanisms by which human genes are turned on and off – generating essential proteins, determining our physical traits, and sometimes causing disease – remain poorly understood.

Biophysicists Marcia Levitus and Kaushik Gurunathan at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University along with their colleagues Hannah S. Tims, and Jonathan Widom of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois have been preoccupied with tiny, spool-like entities known as nucleosomes. Their latest insights into how these structures wrap and unwrap, permitting regulatory proteins to access, bind with and act on regions of DNA, recently appeared in the Journal of Molecular Biology.

Nucleosomes, Levitus explains, are essential components of the genome, acting to regulate access to DNA and protect it from harm. Nucleosome structure permits the entire strand of human DNA, roughly 6 feet in length, to be densely packed into the nucleus of every cell – an area just 10 microns in diameter. This occurs after nucleosomes assemble and fold into higher order structures, culminating in the formation of chromosomes.  Read more here 


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