DNA Origami: How do you fold a genome?
In the last ten years, technology has made it possible for us to study how the 3,000,000,000 letters of our genetic code vary between people. Your DNA code helps makes you, you – from determining the colour of your eyes, to the size of your feet. But it also determines our susceptibility to certain diseases. Although we can find DNA changes linked with disease, we don’t always know how or why they cause problems. We need to understand this so we can turn genetic discoveries into new approaches to prevention or treatment.
In our lab in Oxford, our team of world-leading doctors and experts in computer science are studying fundamental changes in our DNA code that lead to disease – and trying to fix them. But it’s not just the code that’s important. Inside every cell in your body, two metres of DNA is carefully folded into a structure smaller than the width of a human hair. This DNA folding isn’t random - the way the code is packaged in the cell helps controls how the cell works, and changes in how the DNA is twisted and folded can have consequences for the cells in the body and ultimately dictates if we are healthy.
We have developed a new method to better understand DNA folding, which analyses how DNA folds in 3D space. We have found that changes in the way DNA folds can cause rare blood diseases, because they impact how the genetic code is read by the cell. We’re now using this new technology to see whether the same is true for more common diseases like diabetes – and whether correcting these errors in folding could help treat them.