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3D map of human genome shows DNA 'loops'

15 December 2014

By Simon Hazelwood-Smith

Appeared in BioNews 784

A study into the 3D structure of the human genome has revealed the locations of DNA 'loops' at an unprecedented resolution.

The work will help scientists better understand how genes are regulated, the study authors say.

'Our maps of looping revealed thousands of hidden switches that scientists didn't know about before. In the case of genes that can cause cancer or other diseases, knowing where these switches are is vital,' said study author Miriam Huntley from Harvard University.

There are around two metres of DNA in each human cell, which is compacted in a complex looping system to fit into the cell's nucleus. This brings together regions of DNA that can interact with each other, meaning the function of genes can be regulated, switching them 'on' or 'off'.

The research, led by Dr Erez Lieberman Aiden at the Baylor College of Medicine, used a technique called in situ Hi-C to create a 3D map of the structure of DNA. 'For over a century, scientists have known that DNA forms loops inside of cells, and that knowing where the loops are is incredibly important,' said Dr Suhas Rao, who worked on the study.

The research shows that there are around 10,000 loops in the human genome, which is significantly lower than expected. 'The genome project revealed far fewer genes than everyone was expecting; the fact that there are so few loops is a similar surprise,' said Dr Aiden.

Many of the largest loops were found only on the second X chromosome in women, indicating that loops play a major role in switching it off. 'The copy of the X chromosome that is off in females contains gigantic loops that are up to 30 times the size of anything we see in males,' said Huntley.

The work also highlighted differences and similarities in loop structures between eight different cell types, including human cancer and mouse cell lines. Many of the looping patterns were conserved between cell lines, suggesting that many of these structures have been maintained through evolution.


22 January 2018 - by Dr Rachel Huddart 
How DNA is accurately split between cells when they divide has finally been solved by researchers...
28 November 2016 - by Dr Rachel Huddart 
DNA only accounts for about half of the total volume of chromosomes, as shown by new 3D images of human chromosomes...
26 October 2015 - by Paul Waldron 
Scientists have used 'genome surgery' to change the way DNA is packed inside human cells...
20 July 2015 - by Meghna Kataria 
A study has shown that chromosomes, far from being passive participants as had been assumed, are actively involved in the process of cell division...
23 March 2015 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
The human genome contains genes from plants, fungi and various microorganisms that cohabited with our ancestors, research shows...

24 November 2014 - by Dr Katie Howe 
A comprehensive international study has revealed striking similarities as well as some significant differences between the regulation of mouse and human genomes...
24 November 2014 - by David O'Rourke 
Genomics England is inviting applications from UK researchers, NHS clinicians and those in scientific training to access the data compiled by its DNA sequencing project, the 100,000 Genomes Project....
14 April 2014 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Turning on a single gene can regenerate the thymus in elderly mice, causing the immune system organ to double in size and make more white blood cells...
10 February 2014 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Whole genome testing has been used to guide tailored treatment against advanced breast cancer in a group of 43 patients. The scientists behind the study say their research is a step on the path towards 'personalised medicine' where individual genetic makeup informs treatment choice...

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