Supercoiled DNA, complex and shape-shifting, captured with 3D imaging

Supercoiled DNA, complex and shape-shifting, captured with 3D imaging

The double-helix structure of DNA is widely known. Indeed, it is one of the most iconic images of modern science. However, it is in fact just a very small snapshot of the larger, far more complex, genome structure

The double-helix structure of DNA is widely known. Indeed, it is one of the most iconic images of modern science. However, it is in fact just a very small snapshot of the larger, far more complex, genome structure.

The double strands of nucleic acids that form the double helix were first discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick and published in the 1978 book “The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA”. This famous DNA Helix only represents a small portion of the genome.

The standard helix we often see is perhaps no more than a dozen DNA base pairs in sequence. The complete human genome contains three billion base bares, all of which are wound up tight and squeezed into a cell’s nucleus. When such DNA is viewed in a slightly more expanded view- say 1000 base pairs- it is still much more complex than the double-helix lets on.

“Our study looks at DNA on a somewhat grander scale – several hundreds of base pairs – and even this relatively modest increase in size reveals a whole new richness in the behavior of the DNA molecule,” said Dr. Sarah Harris of the University of Leeds.

The effort to capture a picture of a larger set of DNA sets is no easy task. A combined task force of scientists hailing from the Baylor College of Medicine in the United States and the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom are using extremely powerful microscopes along with supercomputer simulations in an attempt to record the appearance of the human genome.

This job was made all the more difficult when the researchers realized that the DNA strands can move around and change into different shapes.

“We are trying to do a puzzle with millions of pieces, and they all keep changing shape,” <a href="http://www.mo

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