The art of folding DNA

The tens of billions of cells in our bodies each contain a two-metre-long strand of DNA. Before a cell can divide, the DNA has to be copied. That will only happen if that long string is first carefully folded. How that transpires has now been determined for the first time by scientists working under biophysicist Cees Dekker (TU Delft).

Condensin (the green circles in the drawing) pulls the strand of DNA into neat loops, which can be copied.

We already knew that the ring-shaped protein condensin played a key role in the folding process. The researchers released this protein onto a strand of fluorescent DNA that was attached to a glass plate. They discovered that condensin binds to the strand of DNA, after which it pulls the rest of the strand through itself. This creates loops, which are arranged neatly in a row. The scientists have thus solved one of the mysteries of how DNA works. This knowledge will enable us to better understand why cell division sometimes goes wrong. These errors can lead to cancer and other diseases.

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