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Scientists expand understanding of how DNA is organised

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research have uncovered new information about vital structures inside cells which are responsible for organizing our DNA. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, the team were able to look at two critical structures responsible for condensing DNA into chromosomes, called condensin I and condensin II.

The findings could have major implications for understanding how cancer develops, since these structures often become deregulated in cancer cells, leading to harmful mutations in the DNA. In a new study, carried out by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research in conjunction with a team at Columbia University in the U.S. and published in the journal Molecular Cell, the scientists were able to look at individual condensin molecules using electron microscopy and examine the activity of condensin molecules using a technique called single-molecule imaging.

This involves taking some of the innards of a cell and placing them under a microscope to examine what they are doing in extraordinary detail. Electron microscopy can be used to look at structures as small as DNA, and using this method the scientists could examine individual condensin molecules.

By putting lots of images of condensin together, they could build a structural model of condensin, which showed it has passages through its structure that could hold DNA. By labeling condensin molecules with a kind of fluorescent luggage tag, the researchers could also follow the activity of the molecules and see condensin making loops in DNA.

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