Stem Cell

Genome architecture guides stem cell fate, Stanford researchers find

When the sequence of the human genome was published in 2001 it was hailed as a great achievement. But now we know our genomes are much more (and much more mysterious) than a simple linear sequence of nucleotide letters. It coils around and over itself in ways that seem mindbogglingly complex. But recently researchers have begun to unravel this mystery and realize that dynamic changes in the genome’s three-dimensional structure affect how and when important genes are expressed.

Now dermatologist Paul Khavari, MD, PhD, and graduate student Adam Rubin, former graduate student Brook Barajas, PhD, and researcher Mayra Furlan-Magaril, PhD, have used new mapping techniques to peer into the deepest recesses of tissue-specific stem cells —progenitor cells that hang out in specialized tissues like muscle waiting for the call to divide and specialize. They identified two types of DNA contacts that help these cells answer a call to action. They published their results in Nature Genetics.

As Khavari explained to me in an email:

How the human genome rearranges itself to express genes needed for specific processes, such as stem cell differentiation, has been a mystery. This work shows that this not only involves physically changing DNA contacts, but also…