Promising Pathway Discovered for Hereditary Gene Expression

Three fluorescent images of yeast cells as they grow from two single cells (left) to a small cell cluster (right). The green color represents the expression of the HO gene. The red color at the bud neck is a marker for cell cycle.

Three fluorescent images of yeast cells as they grow from two single cells (left) to a small cell cluster (right). The green color represents the expression of the HO gene. The red color at the bud neck is a marker for cell cycle.

Just a short post today, partly because I’m getting ready to head off for the weekend for my bachelor party (huzzah!) and partly because I just want to hammer a point home really quick.

If you follow this blog at all, you’ll have read plenty about the importance of gene regulation. Just a couple of days ago, I made a decent case for just how important gene expression is, and how it can be even more important to an organism than the fundamental DNA that is being expressed.

Today, we take a look at research headed down an interesting road toward understanding how genes are regulated and expressed. Researchers at Penn State University were watching the expression of individual genes as yeast reproduced in a laboratory setting. One specific gene called HO is supposed to be turned on in a “mother” cell and “off” in any daughter cells. However, the expression of HO was incorrect in a small fraction of cells. More specifically, it was off in two percent of mother cells and on in three percent of daughter cells.

So what was the reason behind the incorrect gene expression?

Apparently it has something to do with histones – a major protein complex associated with DNA. The configuration of these complexes seems to act as a sort of short-term memory for gene expression, passing on expression patterns from generation to generation. Its configuration was directly responsible for the small amount of error shown in the yeast cells.

While this discovery isn’t going to revolutionize medicine any time soon, it is important basic science that identifies a new path of study. You can bet that researchers are taking a closer look at histone configuration and how it might play a part in diseases at the level of individual cells.

That’s another point I’d like to hammer home while I’m at it. Every scientific discovery isn’t immediately important, but everything builds on itself. Research that doesn’t seem that important or impactful at the time is just a small piece of the puzzle that eventually leads to that “aha” moment of momentous discovery.

The paper, “Stochastic expression and epigenetic memory at the yeast HO promoter,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Lu Bai, assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and physics at Penn State University, and colleagues Qian Zhang,Youngdae Yoona, Juan Antonio Raygoza Garay, and Michael M. Mwangi from Penn State;Yaxin Yu and Emily J. Parnell from the University of Utah; and Frederick R. Cross from the Rockefeller University.

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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