Researchers at the University of York uncovered that genes are controlled by nano football like structures but are 10 million times smaller than the average ball. This remarkable insight into the way in which the genes are controlled is gained by tagging transcription factors with glowing probes. Transcription factors are proteins inside the cells which are involved in controlling the genes by switching them ‘on’ and ‘off’. Previously it was thought that transcription factors operate as single molecules but this discovery led to that transcription factors acting as a spherical football-like cluster of around 7-10 molecules with 30 nanometres in diameter.
The research is published in the journal eLife and supported by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). An advanced super-resolution microscopy is used to look at these nano footballs in real time. The research team believed, the clustering process is a shrewd strategy of the cell to direct the transcription factors to reach their target genes as quickly as possible. The discovery of these nano footballs will help scientists to understand more basic ways of gene operation and also provide key insights into human health problems.
Lead author, Professor Mark Leake said, “Our ability to see inside living cells, one molecule at a time, is simply breathtaking. We had no idea that we would discover that transcription factors operated in this clustered way. The textbooks all suggested that single molecules were used to switch genes on and off, not these crazy nano footballs that we observed.”