Scientists discovered it is not just the unique genetic code found in our DNA that defines who we are. Apparently, there is another hidden layer of information to be discovered on the way this molecule folds.
Solar System in Our Body
The deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is like a recipe book that contains instructions on the creation of our body’s proteins. The sequence of DNA’s chemical bases (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine) structures the instructions in the genome which is our complete set of genetic code.
It basically resembles how letters in the alphabet are arranged in order to form words that turn into sentences. In the same way, the hereditary material’s order of its four building blocks determines the instructions for building and maintaining an organism, including us humans.
The genetic code is a long molecule (around 2 meters long) that has to fit inside a tiny cell. That is why it is supercoiled, with the help of enzymes, so that it does not take up too much space. To get the idea, it would be like twisting a string which creates coils; so if our entire hereditary material is laid out from end to end, it would be around twice the size of our Solar System.
While the code order regulates protein types to be produced in one cell, there have been hypotheses that the DNA’s mechanism also plays a role in holding another layer of information. Finally, theoretical physicists have confirmed that these mechanical cues are also coded into our DNA.
Another Genetic Information Layer
Physicists from the Leiden University in the Netherlands, led by Helmut Schiessel, made a simulation on the mechanical properties of coiling genetic code molecule strands in randomly assigned cues. The group used genomes of baker’s yeast and fission yeast to identify the interaction between DNA’s actual folding structure and mechanics in the two organisms.
Through isolating the mechanical properties of the genetic code molecule’s folding cues, the physicists established with their computer simulation what was once only a hypothesis. The confirmation that another layer of information found in the folding mechanism exists is essential as it plays a big role on how our genes are read by the cell.
With that, the physicists were able to piece the conclusion that both the change in each of the code sequence and the mechanical properties of how the strands are folded causes gene mutation. This happens when a permanent alteration is done in the sequence of one’s genetic code.
A better understanding of our DNA is very critical because it is the fundamentals that make us who we are – from our gender to the color of our hair. The finding of the study, meanwhile, would be applicable to fighting diseases through hiding unwanted sequences that cause it.