A gene's start button may be located further away on the DNA. Making a loop can bring the switch close enough to the gene to activate it.
Researchers have now discovered many of the ways in which cells fold their DNA, and the proteins that are involved in this process. But what is cause and what effect? Research into gene regulation often comes up against this question. Switching genes on and off happens rather quickly, and is therefore difficult to capture.
Elzo de Wit and his research group therefore employ a technique that allows them to quickly, accurately and temporarily deactivate a particular protein. "We deactivate proteins that play a role in DNA folding, and watch what happens first: folding or gene activation. Other researchers have tried to study the function of these proteins by switching off genes using techniques like CRISPR, but these remove a given protein for ever and the cell often dies as a result. Moreover, with that technique you can only hope that the protein has been switched off in all the cells, which is of crucial importance to our analyses."
In De Wit's view the financial support provided by this ERC Consolidator Grant comes at a perfect moment: "All the tools we need are now available. I'm delighted that the European Research Council agrees that we should work in this way to understand the links between DNA folding and gene regulation. This kind of fundamental research enables future discoveries in cancer research, and I think it's essential that ERC makes this sort of research possible."