3-D Mapping of the Human Genome

In the beginning, scientists sequenced the human genome. And the human genome was good…but not good enough.

Next came epigenetics. And epigenetics was also good. But not good enough.

And then scientists thought very hard and invented a technology for producing three-dimensional genome structures. And three-dimensional structures was good. Very good.

In a Nature Biotechnology article published December 25th, 2011, a team of scientists from the University of Southern California, described a method for genome-wide mapping of chromatin interactions known as tethered conformation capture (TCC). The method performs ligations on solid substrates rather than in solution, which helps facilitate a detailed analysis of interactions within and between chromosomes. The team then developed a computational method to translate the TCC data into physical chromatin contacts in a population of three-dimensional genome structures.

Understanding the structure of the genome is crucial to understanding its function as a whole, said Lin Chen, professor of molecular biology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“Everything biological works in the three dimensions,” Chen said. “Therefore, to understand it completely, you have to understand it three-dimensionally.”

By analyzing the differences and similarities in genome structure between various cells, scientists are able to discern what basic principles of 3-D organization are. In addition, the structure allows scientists to see where each gene is located relative to any other gene and how this arrangement is important to cellular functions.

Thanks to USC for contributing to this story.

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