Untangling the world of DNA folding in cells

  • Date

    Fri 26 Apr 19


Scientists at Essex have identified two mechanisms used by cells to correctly and precisely fold DNA in 3D – which is essential to ensure the correct functioning of the body.

The research, published in prestigious journal Genome Research, gives scientists a better understanding of the relationship of how parts of DNA interact with the nucleus of the cell in 3D.

The DNA in each cell of our human body is almost three metres long, which has to be folded like a hairball to fit into the nucleus of the cell.

Essex scientists were among the first researchers to identify that different cell types have their DNA compacted and folded differently. Mis-folding of DNA can often result in developmental defects or disease.

Genomics expert Dr Radu Zabet, who led the study in our School of Life Sciences (formerly the School of Biological Sciences), said: “Understanding the details of the mechanism of how the genome folds in 3D is essential if we are to better understand what goes wrong in developmental defects or disease.

“Our work identified two mechanisms used by our cells to correctly and precisely fold the DNA in 3D. This represents an advancement in our understanding of how the genome is controlled in 3D by the cell.”

The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, used the fruit fly as a model genome because it displays similar folding patterns as the human genome, but is about 20 times smaller. Using a state-of-the-art technology the Essex team, which included Dr Keerthi Chathoth, could achieve unprecedented high resolution at building the 3D structure of the fruit fly genome.

The multi-disciplinary project also involved Maths PhD student Liudmila Mikheeva, who designed artwork showcasing the research which was used on the front cover of the journal - pictured above. In the next stage of the research she will be using advanced statistical methods to analyse the data generated in the laboratory.

Explaining the next steps in his research, Dr Zabet added: "We are currently working on identifying the underlying mechanism of how these factors, that we found as being important, control the 3D organisation.”