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Tracking genes' remote controls: New method for observing enhancer activity during development

Date:
January 12, 2012
Source:
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Summary:
Inside each cell's nucleus, genetic sequences known as enhancers act like remote controls, switching genes on and off. Scientists can now see -- and predict -- exactly when each remote control is itself activated, in a real embryo.
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Chemical tags called chromatin modifications (green flags) activate enhancers (yellow), which act as remote controls, turning a gene (red) on and off.
Credit: EMBL/P.Riedinger

As an embryo develops, different genes are turned on in different cells, to form muscles, neurons and other bodily parts. Inside each cell's nucleus, genetic sequences known as enhancers act like remote controls, switching genes on and off. Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, can now see -- and predict -- exactly when each remote control is itself activated, in a real embryo.

Their work was recently published in Nature Genetics.

Stefan Bonn, Robert Zinzen and Charles Girardot, all in Eileen Furlong's lab at EMBL, found that specific combinations of chromatin modifications -- chemical tags that promote or hinder gene expression -- are placed at and removed from enhancers at precise times during development, switching those remote controls on or off.

"Our new method provides cell-type specific information on the activity status of an enhancer and of a gene, within a developing multicellular embryo," says Furlong.

The scientists looked at known enhancers, and compared those that were active to those that were inactive in a type of cells called mesoderm at a particular time in fruit fly development. They noted what chromatin modifications each of those enhancers had, and trained a computer model to accurately predict if an enhancer is active or inactive, based solely on what chromatin marks it bears.

In future, the scientists plan to use this method to study the interplay between the activity status of an enhancer and the presence of key switches, termed transcription factors, at different stages of embryonic development, and in different tissue types, generating an ever more complete picture of how a single cell grows into a complex organism.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Stefan Bonn, Robert P Zinzen, Charles Girardot, E Hilary Gustafson, Alexis Perez-Gonzalez, Nicolas Delhomme, Yad Ghavi-Helm, Bartek Wilczyński, Andrew Riddell, Eileen E M Furlong. Tissue-specific analysis of chromatin state identifies temporal signatures of enhancer activity during embryonic development. Nature Genetics, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/ng.1064

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European Molecular Biology Laboratory. "Tracking genes' remote controls: New method for observing enhancer activity during development." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 January 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120109132602.htm>.
European Molecular Biology Laboratory. (2012, January 12). Tracking genes' remote controls: New method for observing enhancer activity during development. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 3, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120109132602.htm
European Molecular Biology Laboratory. "Tracking genes' remote controls: New method for observing enhancer activity during development." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120109132602.htm (accessed August 3, 2015).

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