Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rice physicists help unravel mystery of repetitive DNA segments

07.12.2010
With new tools that can grab individual strands of DNA and stretch them like rubber bands, Rice University scientists are working to unravel a mystery of modern genomics. Their latest findings, which appear in Physical Review Letters, offer new clues about the physical makeup of odd segments of DNA that have just one DNA base, adenine, repeated dozens of times in a row.

These mysterious "poly(dA) repeats" are sprinkled throughout the human genome. Scientists have also found them in the genomes of animals, plants and other species over the past decade. But researchers do not know why they are there, what function they perform or why they occur only with the DNA base adenine and not the other three DNA bases -- cytosine, guanine and thymine.

"Previous investigations of poly(dA) have suggested that adenine bases stack in a very uniform way," said Ching-Hwa Kiang, a co-author of the new study and assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Rice. "Our investigation focused on what happens when single strands of poly(dA) were stretched and these stacks were pulled apart."

Kiang's research group specializes in studying the physical and mechanical properties of proteins and nucleic acids, and their primary tool is one of the mainstays of nanotechnology research -- the atomic force microscope, or AFM. The business end of an AFM is like a tiny phonograph needle. The tip of the needle is no more than a few atoms wide, and the needle is at the end of an arm that bobs up and down over the surface of what is being measured. While nanotechnologists use the device to measure the thickness of samples, Kiang's group uses it in a different way.

To begin her experiments, Kiang first places a thin coating of the proteins she wishes to study on a flat surface. This is placed under the AFM arm so the bobbing AFM needle can dip down and grab the ends of one of the proteins. As the arm retracts, it unravels the protein.

All proteins fold into a characteristic shape. Like tiny springs, they remain in this compact "lowest energy" state unless they are pried apart.

The new study on poly(dA) was conducted by Kiang, Rice graduate student Wuen-shiu Chen and colleagues at Rice and National Chung Hsing University (NCHU) in Taiwan. The team discovered that poly(dA) behaves differently depending upon the speed with which it is stretched. When the AFM bobbed rapidly, the poly(dA) segments behaved like any other segment of single-stranded DNA. But when the AFM motion was slowed, the team found that the amount of force required to stretch the poly(dA) changed. At two particular locations, the strand lengthened for a short distance without any additional force at all.

"Typically, single strands of DNA behave like a rubber band: The resistance increases as they stretch, meaning you have to pull harder and harder to continue stretching them," Kiang said. "With poly(dA), we found these two points where that doesn't apply. It's as if you have to pull harder and harder, and then for a brief time, the band stretches with no additional force whatsoever."

Kiang said the exact causes and implications of the phenomenon are unclear. But scientists know that double-stranded DNA must be pried apart at discrete locations so that the cell's machinery can read the genetic code and convert it into proteins. There has been some speculation that the adenine repeats play a role in ordering genomic information; Kiang said the new findings raise even more questions about the role the repeats might play in gene regulation and genome packaging and how they might be potential targets for cancer drugs.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Welch Foundation and the Rice Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering's Hamill Innovation Fund. Study co-authors include Rice undergraduate students Zephan Chen and Ashton Gooding, exchange graduate student Wei-Hung Chen from NCHU and NCHU Professor of Chemistry Kuan-Jiuh Lin.

Jade Boyd | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.rice.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>