Scientists are unfolding the 3D origami map of the genome

The genome is folded up like a tiny origami crane inside each of our cells, and for the first time, researchers are unfolding and revealing the “loops” with a high-resolution map. IFLScience explains how intricate this process is: Each cell in your body contains about 3 billion nucleotides, which is enough DNA to stretch out […]

The genome is folded up like a tiny origami crane inside each of our cells, and for the first time, researchers are unfolding and revealing the “loops” with a high-resolution map.

IFLScience explains how intricate this process is:

Each cell in your body contains about 3 billion nucleotides, which is enough DNA to stretch out for about 1.8 meters. This huge amount of genetic material is able to fold up and be compressed to a very small space within the cell’s nucleus. This feat requires folding patterns that are incredibly precise.  Erez Lieberman Aiden of Rice University served as senior author of the paper, which was published in Cell. The map looks at blocks of the genome that are 1,000 base pairs long in search of “loops” where distant parts of the genetic sequence are brought into close proximity to one another. The team was able to study 10,000 of these loops and their folding patterns.

“More and more, we’re realizing that folding is regulation,” co-first author Suhas Rao of Baylor University said in a press release. “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.”

In order to create this mapping, the team used a graphics processing unit (GPU). Using the GPU allowed for a much clearer, faster interpretation of the data to have a less “noisy” map.

“When studying big data, there can be a tendency to try to solve problems by relying purely on statistical analyses to see what comes out, but our group has a different mentality,” Rao said. “Even though there was so much data, we still wanted to be able to look at it, visualize it and make sense of it. I would say that almost every phenomenon we observed was first seen with the naked eye.”

[Photo from flickr user Jonathan Downs]