Found: a new form of DNA in our cells—14 April 2018

In a world first, Australian Research Council (ARC) funded researchers have identified a new DNA structure inside a cell, which could have important implications for our understanding of the genetic basis of human health, and help with the treatment of disease.

The iconic 'double helix' shape of DNA has captured the public imagination since its structure was discovered in 1953. For some years it has been known that short stretches of DNA can exist in other totally different shapes, but so far this had only ever been observed in the laboratory.

Now researchers at The University of New South Wales and the Garvan Institue of Medical Research have observed strangely structured DNA called 'i-motifs' inside living cells, by developing a precise tool that can recognise and attach to them. 

The researchers uncovered the location of i-motifs in a range of human cell lines. They could also see the i-motifs appearing and disappearing over time, so they now know that they are forming, dissolving and forming again. 

The 'coming and going' of the new DNA structures may be an important clue as to what they do. They may be there to help genes switch on and off, and to affect whether a gene is actively read or not.

This fundamental research discovery sets the stage for a new push to understand what this new DNA structure is, and will have important impacts on understanding human health and treating disease.

The research, which is published in Nature Chemistry, was supported in part by the ARC's Discovery Projects scheme.

Media issued by the Garvan Institue of Medical Research and The University of New South Wales.


Image: a strand of DNA in the double helix structure is not the only form that DNA can take.
Credit: Public Domain Pictures.

Original Published Date: 
Saturday, April 14, 2018