Reading Genetic Tea Leaves
New Method For Reading DNA Sheds Light On How Cells Define Themselves is the title of a Science News article providing information about a biotechnological advance that may reveal details of what some have referred to as a cchromatin code- a code that is separate and distinct from the genetic code associated with DNA sequence patterns. The function of the chromatin code may help us understand cellular differentiation processes and why some cells become liver cells and others brain cells despite having the same DNA. The answer appears to lie in the the way chromatin is structured throughout a genome.
Chromatin contains proteins and is known to have a "packing" function in eukaryotic organisms. But the packaging of DNA only hints at the enormous impact chromatin has in determining cell fates. Genes must be accessible to cellular mechanisms that enable their transcription and the subsequent cellular function of RNA or protein end products. This vital regulatory function is governed by both the structure of chromatin and its biochemical make-up.
The capacity to map chromatin could mean that we will be able to understand both the past history and the future of particular cells. That in turn holds out much promise for advances in developmental biology and the treatment of disease.