Human genomes and their folding patterns have been know for years with hidden switches that can turn on and cause deadly diseases including cancer.
Now with the help of a three-dimensional (3D) map, scientists revealed a structural basis for gene regulation, sort of “genomic origami” that allows the same genome to produce different types of cells.
Using a technology called “in situ Hi-C” to collect billions of snippets of DNA that were later analysed for signs of loops, the researchers have found thousands of hidden switches, which are vital in turning on diseases.
The researchers, while studying the folding pattern called loops in the human genome, realized that the loops form when two bits of DNA that are far apart in the genome sequence end up in close contact in the folded version of the genome in a cell’s nucleus.
“More and more, we are realising that folding is regulation,” said study co-first author Suhas Rao, a researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine in the US. “When you see genes turn on or off, what lies behind that is a change in folding. It’s a different way of thinking about how cells work,” Rao added.
Miriam Huntley, a doctoral student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and co-author of the study said:”Our maps of looping have revealed thousands of hidden switches that scientists did not know about before. In the case of genes that can cause cancer or other diseases, knowing where these switches are is vital.”
The research paper has been published in the online journal Cell.