Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Reading between the genes


Our genes decide about many things in our lives – what we look like, which talents we have, or what kind of diseases we develop. For a long time dismissed as “junk DNA”, we now know that also the regions between the genes fulfil vital functions. They contain a complex control machinery with thousands of molecular switches that regulate the activity of our genes. Until now, however, regulatory DNA regions have been hard to find. Scientists around Patrick Cramer at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and Julien Gagneur at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have now developed a method to find regulatory DNA regions which are active and controlling genes.

The genes in our DNA contain detailed assembly instructions for proteins, the “workers” carrying out and controlling virtually all processes in our cells. To ensure that each protein fulfils its tasks at the right time in the right place of our body, the activity of the corresponding gene has to be tightly controlled.

In contrast to older methods, TT-Seq (dark blue) allows scientists to gain a very consistent picture of all RNA molecules in the cell.

Margaux Michel, Patrick Cramer / Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

This function is taken over by regulatory DNA regions between the genes, which act as a complex control machinery. “Regulatory DNA regions are essential for development in humans, tissue preservation, and the immune response, among others,” explains Patrick Cramer, head of the Department for Molecular Biology at the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry. “Furthermore, they play an important role in various diseases. For example, patients suffering from cancer or cardiovascular conditions show many mutations in exactly those DNA regions,” the biochemist says.

When regulatory DNA regions are active, they are first copied into RNA. “The resulting RNA molecules have a great disadvantage for us researchers though: The cell rapidly degrades them, thus they were hard to find until now,” reports Julien Gagneur, who recently moved with this group from the Gene Center of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich to the TUM. “But exactly those short-lived RNA molecules often act as vital molecular switches that specifically activate genes needed in a certain place of our body. Without these molecular switches, our genes would not be functional.”

An anchor for short-lived molecular switches

Björn Schwalb and Margaux Michel, members of Cramer’s team, as well as Benedikt Zacher, scientist in Gagneur’s group, have now succeeded in developing a highly sensitive method to catch and identify even very short-lived RNA molecules – the so-called TT-Seq (transient transcriptome sequencing) method. The results are reported in the latest issue of the renowned scientific journal Science on June 3rd.

In order to catch the RNA molecules, the three junior researchers used a trick: They supplied cells with a molecule acting as a kind of anchor for a couple of minutes. The cells subsequently incorporated the anchor into each RNA they made during the course of the experiment. With the help of the anchor, the scientists were eventually able to fish the short-lived RNA molecules out of the cell and examine them.

“The RNA molecules we caught with the TT-Seq method provide a snapshot of all DNA regions that were active in the cell at a certain time – the genes as well as the regulatory regions between genes that were so hard to find until now,” Cramer explains. “With TT-Seq we now have a suitable tool to learn more about how genes are controlled in different cell types and how gene regulatory programs work,” Gagneur adds.

In many cases, researchers have a pretty good idea which genes play a role in a certain disease, but do not know which molecular switches are involved. The scientists around Cramer and Gagneur are hoping to be able to use the new method to uncover key mechanisms that play a role during the emergence or course of a disease. In a next step they want to apply their technique to blood cells to better understand the progress of a HIV infection in patients suffering from AIDS.

Original publication
Björn Schwalb, Margaux Michel, Benedikt Zacher, Katja Frühauf, Carina Demel, Achim Tresch, Julien Gagneur, Patrick Cramer: TT-Seq maps the human transient transcriptome.
Science 352,1225-1228 (2016), doi: 10.1126/science.aad9841.

Prof. Dr. Patrick Cramer, Department of Molecular Biology
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen
Phone: +49 551 201-2800

Prof. Dr. Julien Gagneur, Computational Biology Group
Technical University of Munich
Phone: +49 89 289-19411

Dr. Anne Morbach, Public Relations Office
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen
Phone: +49 551 201-1308

Weitere Informationen: – original press release – Website of the Department of Molecular Biology at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen – Website of the Computational Biology Group at the Technical University of Munich

Dr. Carmen Rotte | Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>