Human cells somehow squeeze two meters of double-stranded DNA into the space of a typical chromosome, a package 10,000 times smaller than the volume of genetic material it contains.
“It is like compacting your entire wardrobe into a shoebox,” said Riccardo Levi-Setti, Professor Emeritus in Physics at the University of Chicago.
Now research into single-celled, aquatic algae called dinoflagellates is showing that these and related organisms may have evolved more than one way to achieve this feat of genetic packing. Even so, the evolution of chromosomes in dinoflagellates, humans and other mammals seem to share a common biochemical basis, according to a team Levi-Setti led. The team’s findings appear online, in Science Direct’s list of papers in press (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ejcb.2008.06.002) in the European Journal of Cell Biology.
Packing the whole length of DNA into tiny chromosomes is problematic because DNA carries a negative charge that, unless neutralized, prevents any attempt at folding and coiling due to electrostatic repulsion. The larger the quantity of DNA, the more negative charge must be neutralized along its length.
“Dinoflagellates have much more nuclear DNA than humans,” said Texas A&M biologist Peter Rizzo, who collaborated on the research with Levi-Setti and Konstantin Gavrilov, a Visiting Research Scientist in the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago.
Every bit of DNA must be properly duplicated and divided to facilitate reproduction and growth. In humans and mammals, proteins called histones partially neutralize the DNA’s negative charge. When histones wrap themselves in DNA, they become nucleosomes.
Dinoflagellates are stuffed at the core with tightly compacted chromosomes, yet these organisms contain neither histones nor nucleosomes. “What takes care of neutralizing DNA, to allow chromosomes to condense?” Levi-Setti asked. “Most biology books do not tell you.”
Other scientists had already identified positively charged atoms called cations as neutralizing factors. They found that dinoflagellate chromosomes explode upon the removal of calcium and magnesium cations.
Levi-Setti has produced the first images of the distribution of these cations in dinoflagellate chromosomes. These images verify that cations, mainly of calcium and magnesium, neutralize DNA’s enormous negative charge, and further suggest a critical role in folding the protein as well.
The finding raises questions about the evolution of chromosomes, Rizzo said. “Did dinoflagellates once have histones and then lost them? Or did dinoflagellates never have histones and just ‘figured out’ a different way to fold large amounts of DNA into chromosomes?” Rizzo asked.
The images were produced using a high-resolution scanning ion microprobe, an instrument that Levi-Setti developed in the 1980s jointly with Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif. For the last 15 years, Levi-Setti has collaborated with associates of pioneering chromosome researcher Janet Rowley, the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago.
In 2001, the collaboration demonstrated that cations play an important role in compacting mammalian DNA and helping chromosomes maintain their structure. “Chromosomes would fall apart when calcium and magnesium were removed,” Levi-Setti said.
Wondering if there could be a fundamental evolutionary process at work, Levi-Setti extended his research to the fruit fly. Like mammals, fruit flies belong to the pantheon of eukaryotes. In contrast to prokaryotes like bacteria, eukaryotes pack their genetic material in a cellular nucleus. Prokaryotes lack a nucleus.
“Cations play a very important role in the folding and charge neutralization of DNA in all eukaryotes, but more so in dinoflagellates,” Rizzo said. “I find it truly amazing that in all other eukaryotes, histones help in this charge neutralization, and dinoflagellates constitute the only exception to this nearly universal rule. It looks like this may have been the first and very efficient step toward the goal of neutralizing DNA, long before histones came into play.”
Steve Koppes | Newswise Science News
Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections
25.09.2017 | University of Maryland
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
25.09.2017 | Trade Fair News
25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy