Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Computation and experiment combine to unravel how genes are regulated and shed light on how cells become different

11.04.2008
A closer alliance between computational and experimental researchers is needed to make progress towards one of biology’s most challenging goals, understanding how epigenetic marks contribute to regulation of gene expression. This emerged from a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF), “Computational Approaches to the Role of Epigenetic Marks in Transcription Regulation”.

Epigenetics studies features of the DNA and chromatin that are stably inherited through cell division but that are beyond the DNA sequence itself. It has been well established that epigenetic features influence the transcription process whereby the DNA sequences of genes are translated into the RNA and protein products that determine structure and function. Just as crucially, it is believed that epigenetics also allows changes to these gene expression patterns to be remembered, so that different organs and tissues can emerge during embryonic development, and retain their identity and function for the rest of the organism’s lifetime.

Changes in gene expression can result from modifying chromatin, which is the structure comprising proteins and DNA that is the repository for genetic information. Marks are imposed that serve as templates for modification of the chromatin, altering the ability of genes to be accessed by the DNA transcription machinery. The result is that some genes are suppressed and others are silenced altogether. One of the key questions discussed at the ESF workshop concerned how these changes are “remembered” during cell division through replication of the epigenetic marks, and yet how in some cases these can be reversed, allowing a cell to be reprogrammed so that it can take on a different role or function.

The ability of cells to be reprogrammed by having epigenetic marks removed is of great interest and importance in stem cell research, said Erik van Nimwegen from University of Basel in Switzerland, convenor of the ESF workshop. In some cases cells can be “de-differentiated” in this way, losing their normal function and becoming stem cells again, capable of subsequently dividing into different cell types by acquiring once again appropriate controls over expression of their genes.

The ability to lose as well as gain epigenetic marks that constrain the expression of certain genes is also important in early embryonic development, when rapid changes in structure and function are occurring. One presentation at the workshop by Dirk Schübeler of the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel described how whole sets of genes can have their expression modified just temporarily through the process of DNA methylation, one of the main mechanisms for blocking access to the underlying DNA of a gene.

But with so much still to be discovered about the complex and subtle nature of gene regulation through epigenetic modification, the greatest triumph of the ESF workshop lay not so much in the individual presentations, but the collective decisions over future research priorities, and the relationships established between computational and experimental biologists.

“We think that the discussions among experimentalists and theorists regarding interesting outstanding questions has shaped the planning for future research of all participants,” said van Nimwegen. “Several participants felt the workshop was rather unique in that it brought together a wide variety of researchers working in a field that is rather new.”

Experiments and observation provide the data about gene expression patterns, while computational methods analyse the changes over time and help identify sequences that have been in effect memorised, and others that have been “forgotten”. This phenomenon whereby cells in effect remember what has happened to them and respond through changes in their expression is fundamental to development of organisms, along with their structure and function during their lifetime, as well as inheritance of adaptations to environmental factors.

The workshop, Computational Approaches to the Role of Epigenetic Marks in Transcription Regulation was held in Basel, Switzerland, 17 - 19 October 2007. Each year, ESF supports approximately 50 Exploratory Workshops across all scientific domains. These small, interactive group sessions are aimed at opening up new directions in research to explore new fields with a potential impact on developments in science.

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esf.org/fileadmin/be_user/ew_docs/06-069_Programme.pdf
http://www.esf.org

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Data analysis optimizes cyber-physical systems in telecommunications and building automation
18.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Algorithmen und Wissenschaftliches Rechnen SCAI

nachricht Brain-Computer Interface: What if computers could intuitively understand us
18.01.2017 | Technische Universität Berlin

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Explaining how 2-D materials break at the atomic level

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Data analysis optimizes cyber-physical systems in telecommunications and building automation

18.01.2017 | Information Technology

Reducing household waste with less energy

18.01.2017 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>