Scientists have created the first 3D model of DNA, thanks to a new software buit by a young Harvard scientist. Depicting the way DNA packs itself inside a cell, we couldn't help but see it as a beach ball of life.
The fancy scientists call it a "fractal globule." No matter what you call it, it's giving us brand new insight into how DNA works.
Erez Lieberman Aiden, a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows along with Harvard, MIT and University of Massachusetts Medical School colleagues, created a software he calls Hi-C, which measures the shifting and colliding of DNA inside a cell. Says Aiden:
You can think about the genome as a noodle that's in a rapidly boiling pot. Every once in a while two parts of the noodle collide. What Hi-C does is measure the rate at which collisions happen between any two pieces of the genome. As you might expect, points that are nearer to each other are more likely to collide with one another, but sometimes points that are far apart collide more than we would expect.
Despite being packed inside cells tighter than a sardine, the DNA strands never become knotted, which means it can be pulled out and readily stuffed back inside. Those tangles hold immense amounts of information, and the researchers think the way they're folded might impact which genes are turned on and off. Studying this physical arrangement could shed light on epigenetics, a new field that studies the how things outside the genetic code, such as personal experiences or environmental chemicals, can influence DNA expression.
Aiden called it "epigenetics via origami." [PhysOrg]
Image credit: Harvard University