Nav: Home

Reading between the genes

June 02, 2016

For a long time dismissed as "junk DNA", we now know that also the regions between the genes fulfil vital functions. Mutations in those DNA regions can severely impair development in humans and may lead to serious diseases later in life. Until now, however, regulatory DNA regions have been hard to find. Scientists around Prof. Julien Gagneur, Professor for Computational Biology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Prof. Patrick Cramer at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen have now developed a method to find regulatory DNA regions which are active and controlling genes.

The genes in our DNA contain detailed assembly instructions for proteins, the "workers" carrying out and controlling virtually all processes in our cells. To ensure that each protein fulfils its tasks at the right time in the right place of our body, the activity of the corresponding gene has to be tightly controlled. This function is taken over by regulatory DNA regions between the genes, which act as a complex control machinery. "Regulatory DNA regions are essential for development in humans, tissue preservation, and the immune response, among others," explains Prof. Patrick Cramer, head of the Department for Molecular Biology at the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry. "Furthermore, they play an important role in various diseases. For example, patients suffering from cancer or cardiovascular conditions show many mutations in exactly those DNA regions," the biochemist says.

When regulatory DNA regions are active, they are first copied into RNA. "The resulting RNA molecules have a great disadvantage for us researchers though: The cell rapidly degrades them, thus they were hard to find until now," reports Prof. Julien Gagneur, who recently moved from the Gene Center of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität to the Technical University of Munich. "But exactly those short-lived RNA molecules often act as vital molecular switches that specifically activate genes needed in a certain place of our body. Without these molecular switches, our genes would not be functional."

An anchor for short-lived molecular switches

Björn Schwalb and Margaux Michel, members of Cramer´s team, as well as Benedikt Zacher, scientist in Gagneur´s group, have now succeeded in developing a highly sensitive method to catch and identify even very short-lived RNA molecules - the so-called TT-Seq (transient transcriptome sequencing) method. The results are reported in the latest issue of the renowned scientific journal Science on June 3rd. In order to catch the RNA molecules, the three junior researchers used a trick: They supplied cells with a molecule acting as a kind of anchor for a couple of minutes. The cells subsequently incorporated the anchor into each RNA they made during the course of the experiment. With the help of the anchor, the scientists were eventually able to fish the short-lived RNA molecules out of the cell and examine them.

"The RNA molecules we caught with the TT-Seq method provide a snapshot of all DNA regions that were active in the cell at a certain time - the genes as well as the regulatory regions between genes that were so hard to find until now," Cramer explains. "With TT-Seq we now have a suitable tool to learn more about how genes are controlled in different cell types and how gene regulatory programs work," Gagneur adds.

In many cases, researchers have a pretty good idea which genes play a role in a certain disease, but do not know which molecular switches are involved. The scientists around Cramer and Gagneur are hoping to be able to use the new method to uncover key mechanisms that play a role during the emergence or course of a disease. In a next step they want to apply their technique to blood cells to better understand the progress of a HIV infection in patients suffering from AIDS.
-end-
Contact:

Prof. Dr. Patrick Cramer, Department of Molecular Biology
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen
Phone: +49 551 201-2800
E-mail: patrick.cramer@mpibpc.mpg.de

Prof. Dr. Julien Gagneur, Computational Biology Group
Technical University of Munich
Phone: +49 89 289-19411
E-mail: gagneur@in.tum.de

Dr. Anne Morbach, Public Relations Office
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen
Phone: +49 551 201-1308
E-mail: anne.morbach@mpibpc.mpg.de

Technical University of Munich (TUM)

Related Dna Articles:

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.
Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.
DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.
A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.
From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.
Self-healing DNA nanostructures
DNA assembled into nanostructures such as tubes and origami-inspired shapes could someday find applications ranging from DNA computers to nanomedicine.
DNA design that anyone can do
Researchers at MIT and Arizona State University have designed a computer program that allows users to translate any free-form drawing into a two-dimensional, nanoscale structure made of DNA.
DNA find
A Queensland University of Technology-led collaboration with University of Adelaide reveals that Australia's pint-sized banded hare-wallaby is the closest living relative of the giant short-faced kangaroos which roamed the continent for millions of years, but died out about 40,000 years ago.
DNA structure impacts rate and accuracy of DNA synthesis
DNA sequences with the potential to form unusual conformations, which are frequently associated with cancer and neurological diseases, can in fact slow down or speed up the DNA synthesis process and cause more or fewer sequencing errors.
Changes in mitochondrial DNA control how nuclear DNA mutations are expressed in cardiomyopathy
Differences in the DNA within the mitochondria, the energy-producing structures within cells, can determine the severity and progression of heart disease caused by a nuclear DNA mutation.
More DNA News and DNA Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.