Our DNA Can Now Be Turned ‘On’ and ‘Off’ With Light

by Madonna Watts D'Souza
Our DNA Can Now Be Turned ‘On’ and ‘Off’ With Light

January 8, 2021

Your DNA can now be turned 'on' and 'off' with light in this new groundbreaking research. Scientists used a Nobel Prize-winning technique.

The wonders of the DNA have never stopped. Researchers daily discover something about this vital protein that amazes all of us. You’ve heard of the importance of DNA in your school, college, university, and even from your friends. Nestled within our cells’ nucleus, this microscopic element is responsible for everything you present and express out to the world.

DNA and its Many Roles

While most people may think that DNA only conducts physiology, hereditary characteristics, and synthesis, recent studies reveal that DNA control is way beyond that, even biology! There are previous articles narrating how DNA can be responsible for 40% of your happiness, how scientists can now be duped to create dangerous strains of DNA, and how DNA can influence your political and religious views.

However, most of our DNA still remains a mystery to the scientific world. But this recent breakthrough could lead scientists into understanding a little more about DNA but genetics, epigenetics, synthetic biology, DNA technologies, and DNA processes. Our DNA is such a powerful information storage unit that researchers actually experimented with how DNA can be used as storage units for computers! Cyborg much?

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How Scientists Cracked the Code of Switching DNA

Researchers from the University of Münster conducted the study. Germany discovered a genius path of using the 2018 Nobel Prize-winning technique, called protein engineering, to turn DNA on and off. However, unlike the unconventional way, researchers created an enzyme that was quite sensitive to light with photo caging groups’ help.

Photo Caging Groups are compounds that are sensitive light probes whose function is to encapsulate biomolecules in their inactive forms. It is widely known that most biological events are chemical reactions regulated with the help of enzymes. As per the authors of the study, “they have been successfully used for DNA, RNA, and protein in vitro, in cells, and in vivo.4a, 4b. Their expulsion by light rebuilds the native biomolecule and can be controlled with excellent Spatio-temporal precision.”

Hence, researchers took advantage of protein engineering and created the light-responsive enzyme, activated in the cascade reaction. This made it possible for scientists to switch some DNA functions ‘on’ or ‘off’ with the enzyme and light’s help.

As an outcome of our work, it is now attainable to transfer larger residues or modifications such as the photoaging groups just mentioned.

- Nils Klöcker, Ph.D. Scholar, Institute of Biochemistry

Andrea Rentmeister, the professor who led the research, said, “Combining these MATs with other enzymes has the likely strength for future cellular implementations. This is a critical step for executing in-situ formed, non-natural substances for other enzymes in epigenetic studies.” The study has been disseminated in the journal Proceedings of Angewandte Chemie.

dna strands

The Significance of the Study

The historical Human Genome Project had completed 30 years in 2020. one of the most shocking things divulged by this project is that only two per cent of our DNA is expressed and functionally in our daily life. But what occurs to the rest of the ninety-eight per cent of DNA in our bodies?

The rest of the ninety-eight per cent of DNA is known as coding or regulatory DNA. This DNA was discovered to control the mere two per cent of DNA, which is expressed. This means that 98% of DNA supervises and assigns responsibilities to all the cells in our bodies. Despite every cell having the same DNA, there is something about this protein that can cleverly express or suppress some of the genes.

This function is the natural switching ‘on’ and ‘off’ of our DNA, which distinctly differentiates a heart cell from a neuron and a neuron from a bone cell despite having the same DNA. Hence, this research will lead scientists to understand the intricate and mysterious processes of the DNA, leading to the curing of diseases and, ultimately, humankind’s welfare.

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