The world of DNA contains some surprisingly large numbers for a microscopic molecule. For example, stretched end to end, the DNA of a single cell nucleus would be as tall as a person. Folding all those bases away into a nucleus mere micrometres across is a masterclass in origami, as demonstrated by a new study, and this stunning video, from SISSA РThe International School for Advanced Studies. 

“Cells have been evolving to exploit this apparently chaotic organisation to efficiently store the genetic information and use it for their function,” says lead scientist Marco Di Stefano, a biophysicist now at the National Centre for Genomic Analysis in Barcelona, Spain.

In this study, Marco and his colleagues converted experimental data in a three dimensional model of the nucleus. While previous work has provided indirect information about DNA folding, Marco’s approach resulted in a comprehensive and biologically accurate depiction of how a genome contorts and folds itself.¬†

“This new work does reveal a striking, high-resolution model of the human genome,” says Job Dekker, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, who was not involved with the work. “It is indeed beautiful.”

More on these topics