A large, multi-institutional research team involved in the NIH Epigenome Roadmap Project has published a sweeping analysis in the current issue of the journal Cell of how genes are turned on and off to direct early human development. Led by Bing Ren of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Joseph Ecker of The Salk Institute for Biological Studies and James Thomson of the Morgridge Institute for Research, the scientists also describe novel genetic phenomena likely to play a pivotal role not only in the genesis of the embryo, but that of cancer as well. Their publicly available data, the result of more than four years of experimentation and analysis, will contribute significantly to virtually every subfield of the biomedical sciences.
After an egg has been fertilized, it divides repeatedly to give rise to every cell in the human body—from the patrolling immune cell to the pulsing neuron. Each functionally distinct generation of cells subsequently differentiates itself from its predecessors in the developing embryo by expressing only a selection of its full complement of genes, while actively suppressing others. “By applying large-scale genomics technologies,” explains Bing Ren, PhD, Ludwig Institute member and a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, “we could explore how genes across the genome are turned on and off as embryonic cells and their descendant lineages choose their fates, determining which parts of the body they would generate.”
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University of Washington engineers and NanoFacture, a Bellevue, Wash., company, have created a device that can extract human DNA from fluid samples in a simpler, more efficient and environmentally friendly way than conventional methods.
Conventional methods use a centrifuge to spin and separate DNA molecules or strain them from a fluid sample with a micro-filter, but these processes take 20 to 30 minutes to complete and can require excessive toxic chemicals.
UW engineers designed microscopic probes that dip into a fluid sample – saliva, sputum or blood – and apply an electric field within the liquid. That draws particles to concentrate around the surface of the tiny probe. Larger particles hit the tip and swerve away, but DNA-sized molecules stick to the probe and are trapped on the surface. It takes two or three minutes to separate and purify DNA using this technology.
Read the full story on the UW website.