Scientists understand the chemistry involved in gene expression, but they know little about the physics. The U-M group is believed to be the first to actually demonstrate a mechanical effect at work in this process. Their paper is published in the current edition of Physical Review Letters.
"We have shown that small forces can control the machinery that turns genes on and off. There's more to gene regulation than biochemistry. We have to look at mechanics too," said Jens-Christian Meiners, associate professor in the Department of Physics and director of the biophysics program.
A better understanding of how cells regulate themselves could lead to new insights into how the process could fail and lead to disease.
"When cells start to misinterpret regulatory signals, cardiac disease, birth defects, and cancer can result. In fact, mechanical signals have been implicated as a culprit in a variety of pathologies," said Joshua Milstein, a research fellow in the Department of Physics.
To perform their experiment, the scientists used custom "optical tweezers," or lasers, to pull on the ends of bacterial DNA strands with 200 femtonewtons of force, said Yih-Fan Chen, a doctoral student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Chen designed and built the tweezers.
The force they used corresponds roughly to the weight of one-billionth of a grain of rice.
In segments of DNA that were tethered to a microscope slide, the scientists observed a 10-fold decrease in the rate at which the strands looped in on themselves.
DNA looping prevents genes within the loops from being expressed. A common mechanism for gene regulation, it also occurs in complex organisms including humans. Specialized proteins act as buckles to connect distant points on the DNA to form the loops. That's the chemistry part. The challenge for physics is to understand how the DNA bends so those distant points can come together.
While this experiment was performed on free DNA, the scientists say forces as much as 100 times stronger are regularly created inside cells as contents shift and buffet each other.
"If we can basically shut this process down with the tiniest force, how could all these larger forces not have an impact on gene expression?" Milstein said.
Meiners and his team are striving for a quantitative understanding of this biological process. He likens the current state of our understanding of gene expression to a diagram. He is searching for equations, and these results begin to provide that.
"We can tell you how long you'll have to wait for a DNA loop to form based on how much force you apply to the DNA," Meiners said. "We're one step closer to understanding cells quantitatively."
The paper is called "Femtonewton Entropic Forces Can Control the Formation of Protein-Mediated DNA Loops."
This research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
For more information:
Jens-Christian Meiners: http://biop.lsa.umich.edu/meiners-jens-christian.aspx
Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters
Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering