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Researchers define new class of regulatory element in DNA

Researchers at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine’s Laboratory of Gene Regulation, led by Professor Doug Higgs and Dr Mira Kassouf have published a study in the journal Cell, in which they reveal another piece of the puzzle of how the code in our DNA is read. In this study, the authors introduce the concept of “facilitators”, a newly identified type of non-coding DNA that can help to drive gene expression.

All of the cells in your body contain the same DNA. However, these cells are able to develop into over 200 different types and make up a variety of different specialised tissues such as the skin, the blood and the brain. DNA contains stretches of code called ‘genes’, which specify the features of each cell, and yet these genes only account for approximately 2% of all DNA in the cell. The remaining 98% of DNA has been shown to include regulatory elements that are able to influence the expression of nearby genes and therefore control how a cell develops.

One type of regulatory element in DNA is enhancers, which sit in between genes and are needed to switch genes on and off in different combinations, at different times and at different levels. Despite being discovered over 40 years ago, how enhancers work is still not fully understood. More recently, “super-enhancers” have also been identified, which are composed of teams of individual regulatory elements that work together to drive very high levels of gene expression.


Read the full story on the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine website.

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