Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


IMP Scientists shed light on the “dark matter” of DNA

In each cell, thousands of regulatory regions control which genes are active at any time. Scientists at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna have developed a method that reliably detects these regions and measures their activity. The new technology is published online by Science this week.

Genome sequences store the information about an organism’s development in the DNA’s four-letter alphabet. Genes carry the instruction for proteins, which are the building blocks of our bodies.

Fluorescence image of ovarian tissue of the fruit fly. DNA is stained in blue, the activity of enhancers is represented by the green colour.
Copyright: IMP

However, genes make up only a minority of the entire genome sequence – roughly two percent in humans. The remainder was once dismissed as “junk”, mostly because its function remained elusive. “Dark matter” might be more appropriate, but gradually light is being shed on this part of the genome, too.

Far from being useless, the non-coding part of DNA contains so-called regulatory regions or enhancers that determine when and where each gene is expressed. This regulation ensures that each gene is only active in appropriate cell-types and tissues, e.g. haemoglobin in red blood cell precursors, digestive enzymes in the stomach, or ion channels in neurons. If gene regulation fails, cells express the wrong genes and acquire inappropriate functions such as the ability to divide and proliferate, leading to diseases such as cancer.

Despite the importance of gene regulatory regions, scientists have been limited in their ability to study them on a genome-wide scale. Their identification relied on indirect means, which were error prone and required tedious experiments for validating and quantifying enhancer activities..

Alexander Stark and his team at the IMP in Vienna now closed this gap with the development of a new technology called STARR-seq (self-transcribing active regulatory region sequencing), published online by Science this week. STARR-seq allows the direct identification of DNA sequences that function as enhancers and simultaneously measures their activity quantitatively in entire genomes.

Applying their technology to Drosophila cells, the IMP-scientists surprisingly find that the strongest enhancers reside in both regulatory genes that determine the respective cell-types as well as in broadly active “housekeeping” genes that are required for basic cell survival in most or all cells. In addition, they find several enhancers for each active gene, which might provide redundancy to ensure robustness of gene regulation.

The new method combines advanced sequencing technology and highly specialized know-how in bio-computing. It is a powerful tool which, according to Alexander Stark, will prove immensely valuable in the future. “STARR-seq is like a magic microscope that lets us zoom in on the regulatory regions of DNA. It will be crucial to study gene regulation and how it is encoded in the genome – both during normal development and when it goes wrong in disease.”

The paper „STARR-seq Reports Genome-Wide Quantitative Enhancer Activity Maps Revealing Complex cis-Regulation of Transcription“ by Cosmas Arnold et al. is published online by Science Express on January 17, 2013.
A scientific image to illustrate this press release can be downloaded from the IMP-Website:

About Alexander Stark
Alexander Stark joined the IMP as Group Leader in October 2008. Prior to his current position he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and at CSAIL MIT. Stark studied biochemistry at the University of Tübingen and received his PhD from the EMBL in Heidelberg and the University of Cologne. The work of Alexander Stark is supported by a Starting Grant of the European Research Council ERC, awarded in 2009.

About the IMP
The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna is a basic biomedical research institute largely sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. With over 200 scientists from 30 nations, the IMP is committed to scientific discovery of fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying complex biological phenomena. Research areas include cell and molecular biology, neurobiology, disease mechanisms and computational biology. The IMP is a founding member of the Campus Vienna Biocenter.

Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl
IMP Communications
Tel.: (+43 1) 79730 3625
Mobile: (+43 1) 664 8247910

Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>