Personalized Genetics in the News: 3D Structure and Bar Code Reader

The researchers report two striking findings. First, the human genome is organized into two separate compartments, keeping active genes separate and accessible while sequestering unused DNA in a denser storage compartment.

Second, at a finer scale, the genome adopts an unusual organization known in mathematics as a “fractal.” The specific architecture the scientists found, called a “fractal globule,” enables the cell to pack DNA incredibly tightly – the information density in the nucleus is trillions of times higher than on a computer chip — while avoiding the knots and tangles that might interfere with the cell’s ability to read its own genome. Moreover, the DNA can easily unfold and refold during gene activation, gene repression, and cell replication.

The DNA Transistor is a project from IBM Research that aims to advance personalized medicine, by making it simpler (and much cheaper) to read an individual’s unique DNA sequence — the special combination of proteins that makes you unlike anyone else.

A group of doctors training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center started a unique program last week to learn about genetic tests marketed to consumers, placing them in the vanguard of preparations to guide patients through the dawning Wild West age of personalized medicine.

Part of the instruction will come from having the young physicians test their own DNA in search of genes linked to various illnesses.