Origami Folds In Genes Make Cells What They Are
by Michael Keller
New research has shed light on how the same DNA blueprint can lead to structures as different as neurons and red blood cells.
Scientists from the Baylor College of Medicine and Rice and Harvard universities have created a highly detailed 3-D map of the human genome by analyzing billions of DNA fragments. Their work uncovers how the 3 billion DNA units that make up our genetic code contort, link and interact to create the genome’s physical structure.
This folded origami-like architecture shrinks down our DNA, which would stretch 6.5 feet long into a straight line, to fit inside a nucleus that measures less than 0.00024 of an inch across. It turns out that the folding itself determines whether certain genes are turned on or off, which leads to the production of different proteins in different types of cells.
“More and more, we’re realizing that folding is regulation,” said Suhas Rao, a researcher at Baylor’s Center for Genome Architecture who contributed to the work. “When you see genes turn on or off, what lies behind that is a change in folding. It’s a different way of thinking about how cells work.” (see video below.)