A joint group of researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and University of Leeds said that their supercoiled DNA challenges commonly held idea of static DNA. The researchers created a 3-D structure of supercoiled DNA that is more dynamic than the double helix model.
The double helix structure of the DNA was discovered by scientists Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins in 1953. But state-of-the-art microscopy technologies allowed researchers to model a supercoiled DNA structure and multiple DNA shapes including the famous figure-8.
The new structures were uploaded on a supercomputer and simulations were performed. Researchers reported in the journal Nature Communications those simulations showed that supercoiled DNA challenges commonly held idea of static DNA.
Supercoiled DNA is a shape-shifter that takes on different shapes and wiggles on a constant basis. Double helix’ finders had a more static idea of the DNA’s structure. And that idea shaped scientific research for more than 50 years.
Researchers said that we need to better understand how DNA really looks like if we want to make advances in medical research. New drugs may become readily available after the discovery such as enhanced antibiotics or cancer superdrugs.
Dr Sarah Harris, lead author of the study and researcher at University of Leeds’ School of Physics and Astronomy, explained that molecules in drugs target a particular shape of the DNA just like a key fits a specific lock. If the key doesn’t fit the lock, you cannot open the door to breakthrough cures to modern diseases.
But the double helix did not only shape scientific research it is also deeply embedded into the public conscience. We teach about it in public schools for more than four decades. We have movies about it, documentaries, wallpapers, and art works. Yet, researchers explained that the double helix shape is over simplified.
Dr Harris argued that Dr. Crick and Watson only analyzed about a dozen of DNA ‘base pairs’ when they constructed the double helix structure. Base pairs are the building blocks of the helical shape. The DNA they analyzed was just a tiny part of the human genome.
But the recent study analyzed several hundreds of base pairs, and the findings were surprising. The DNA molecules’ behavior is a lot different than what Watson and his fellow researchers imagined in the 1950s.
Moreover, a complete DNA set has nearly 3 billion of base pairs. The amount of information contained is tremendous so the data had to be coiled up tightly to be able to fit into the nucleus of cells.
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