New research published online in Nature by the team of Edith Heard, PhD, from the Curie Institute and Job Dekker, PhD, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), reveals a new layer in the complex organization of chromosomes. The scientists have shown that chromosomes fold in a series of contiguous "yarns" that harbor groups of genes and regulatory elements, bringing them in contact with each other and allowing them to work in a coordinated manner during development.
Chromosomes are relatively large molecules that, when spread out, can measure up to the length of an entire human arm. Despite their size, however, they are actually confined within the small space of the cell nucleus which is just a few micrometers in size. Furthermore, within each cell nucleus are multiple chromosomes. In humans, for example, there are 23 pairs of chromosomes. In order to fit all this material into this small area, chromosomes are folded, compacted and mingled in the three-dimensional space of the nucleus.
So do chromosomes fill the nucleus just like spaghetti fills a plate? "Not quite," said Elphege Nora, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow on the team of Dr. Heard, head of the Genetics and Developmental Biology Lab at the Curie Institute. "Chromosome folding follows a pattern, and this actually turns out to be important for ensuring their proper function."
A chromosome looks like a series of tiny yarns
"We have known for decades that the DNA of individual genes is wrapped around nucleosomes to form the classical 'beads-on-a-string' structure," said Dekker, co-director of the Program in Systems Biology at UMMS. "Our new study now shows that these beads-on-a-string subsequently fold up to form 'yarns-on-a-string,' where each yarn is a group of genes. This domainal organization of chromosomes represents a previously unknown higher order level of folding that we believe is a fundamental organizing principle of genomes."
These globule-like yarns span anything from a few hundred thousand to a million base pairs, explained Heard. Base pairs (abbreviated as A, C, G and Ts) are the genome's unit of measurement, and a person's DNA consists of over 3 billion pairs. "The real surprise, however, lies in how this spatial folding of chromosomes links up to their functional organization," said Heard. "This chromosome folding pattern brings together, into the same 'yarn,' several genes, up to 10 of them, or even more."
However, there are not just genes in these yarns. So called "regulatory genomic elements," that can control the activity of neighboring genes like switches are also found clustered together with the genes in these chromosomal yarns. A group of genes belonging to the same yarn will therefore be likely to contact a similar set of regulatory elements, and this can result in the coordinated activity of these genes during development.
These new observations shed some light on several long-standing mysteries of genetics, such as the reason why some DNA mutations can end up affecting genes that are located thousands or even a million base pairs away.
"The cell nucleus is packed with genes, and the cell is faced with the challenge to turn on or off each one of them correctly," said Dekker. "By organizing groups of genes in isolated domains, or yarns that do not mingle or mix with other genes, the cell has solved the problem of how to regulate groups of genes coordinately and without interference from other genes."
However, damaging one of these "chromosome yarns" can lead to the misbehavior of all the genes it contains. "The three-dimensional organization of chromosomes allows distal genomic elements to be brought together and to functionally interact with each other. At certain points during development it is thus possible to precisely orchestrate the activity of genes that are far away from each other on the linear chromosome thread, but that are actually in contact physically, within a chromosome yarn," said Nora. "The down side of this type of organization is that a single mutation altering the organization of such a 'chromosome yarn' can affect a whole group of genes."Three-dimensional folding provides shortcuts through the chromosome
Beyond advancing our fundamental understanding of chromosome biology, these studies also open up new avenues for studying certain diseases, such as genetic disorders that are due to mutations in the DNA sequence which disrupt the proper activity of certain genes. Sometimes the mutation causing these defects is not directly in the gene, but affects one of its regulatory elements somewhere in its extended chromosomal neighborhood. Finding such mutations along the chromosome has been a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack because scientists did not know which genes were partnered with which regulatory elements. The hunt for such mutations can now be directed first to the chromosomal region most likely to harbor the regulatory elements of the misbehaving gene – inside the chromosome "yarn" to which that gene belongs.About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
Jim Fessenden | EurekAlert!
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy