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Scientific research by University of York, shows genes are regulated by “Nano footballs”

Research at the University of York found evidence to suggest that genes are controlled by ‘nano footballs’, as the structures bear a strong resemblance to footballs but 10 million times smaller than the average ball.

By placing tiny glowing probes on transcription factors, special chemicals inside cells which control whether a gene is switched ‘on’ or ‘off’, researchers gleaned remarkable new insight into the way in which genes are controlled.

They discovered that transcription factors operate not as single molecules as previously thought, but as a spherical football-like cluster of around 7-10 molecules of roughly 30 nanometres in diameter.

The discovery of these nano footballs will help researchers understand more about the basic ways in which genes operate, but could also provide important insights into human health problems associated with a range of different genetic disorders, potentially including cancer.

The research, supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, was carried out by scientists from the University of York, and the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

The researchers employed advanced super-resolution microscopy to look at the nano footballs in real time, using the same type of yeast cells utilised in baking and brewing beer.

Professor Mark Leake, Chair of Biological Physics at the University of York who led the work, said: “Our ability to see inside living cells, one molecule at a time, is simply breath-taking.”

“We had no idea that we would discover that transcription factors operated in this clustered way. The textbooks all suggested that single molecules were used to switch genes on and off, not these crazy nano footballs that we observed.”

The team believe the clustering process is due to an ingenious strategy of the cell to allow transcription factors to reach their target genes as quickly as possible.

Professor Leake said: “We found out that the size of these nano footballs is a remarkably close match to the gaps between DNA when it is scrunched up inside a cell. As the DNA inside a nucleus is really squeezed in, you get little gaps between separate strands of DNA which are like the mesh in a fishing net. The size of this mesh is really close to the size of the nano footballs we see.

“This means that nano footballs can roll along segments of DNA but then hop to another nearby segment. This allows the nano football to find the specific gene it controls much more quickly than if no nano hopping was possible. In other words, cells can respond as quickly as possible to signals from the outside, which is an enormous advantage in the fight for survival.”

This new research may help provide insights into human health problems associated with a range of different genetic disorders. The next stages will be to extend this research into more complicated types of cells than yeast, and, ultimately, into human cells.

Source: Science Daily

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