Recently, a team of avid researchers comprised of members from different institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, MIT and Harvard have reported the first successful surgical operation on the human genome. Using advance surgical techniques, researchers were able to manipulate the way the genome is folded inside a cell’ nucleus. Genetic surgery and backpack strap loops may be terms associated rather with something from a Star Trek episode, but the cracker-jack team of researchers seem to have found a way to broaden our understanding of the genome.
The term of “backpack loop” was used in the study by co-first author Adrian Sanborn in order to explain how this procedure works. Apart from the metaphorical approach, Sanborn’ explanation does well in familiarizing us with the inner workings of the human genome.
Scientists have discover that there are certain proteins that are capable of switching the genes on and off, by forming a sort of loop in the chromosomes. During a series of lab experimentation on a strand of human DNA material, researchers discovered that the genome, which is about 2 meter long, folds inside the nucleus, producing about 10.000 loops. Any anomaly in both the folding and folding process can lead to any number of genetic disorders.
If genes are activated by the loops formed inside the nucleus, then the next riddle waiting to be solved would be to uncover how these loops are formed. The paper seems to shade some light on that subject. Getting back to Stanborn’s statement and his somewhat ludic approach, the explanation is quite simple.
The process through which cell loops are formed is called extrusion. If the cell loop represents the strap of the backpack, then all you have to do in order to manipulate the overall length of the strap is to feed the strap through each side of the plastic adjuster until you get the desired length. The so-called plastic slide is called a tri-glide.
Using these information, researchers found a new way that allows them to combine the tri-glide mode with advanced mathematics and high-performance computers in order to predict how a genome folds. In each experiment, the genome folded exactly as predicted and in one case, the simple change in a single base pair was enough to alter millions of letters in the genome.
These new discovery could very well revolutionize the way we see the human genome and could even hold the key in preventing and curing many genetic diseases.