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Chromosome biology: The shape of things to come
For all the pretty drawings in biology textbooks, researchers have yet to nail down how DNA actually folds and organizes itself in nucleated cells. But it’s clear that the DNA are organized, and that that organization matters. DNA sequences in highly compacted regions are typically not expressed, for instance, and mutations that push otherwise silent genes into ‘open’ regions can activate those genes, leading to disease. In other words, it is not just the sequence of DNA that matters, but its shape. Since the early 2000s researchers have used ‘chromosome conformation capture’ (3C)-type assays to probe the chromatin landscape. But 3C and its kin have limitations — in particular, they typically average interactions over millions of cells. More recently, researchers have begun investigating chromatin conformation directly, using high-resolution microscopy to trace DNA cell by cell. Those methods are revealing the stunning diversity of chromatin conformation, and its impact on DNA biology.
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