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Epigenetic Condensates Drop By Particular Genomic Sites

August 09, 2019 / Steven H. Lee

Coalescing into tiny liquid-like blobs and glomming onto specific DNA elements, transcription factors TFs boost the expression of nearby genes. The blobs are specialized droplets called phase-condensation condensates, and the DNA elements are called enhancers. Blobs and the enhancers manage to recognize and associate with each other. But how? The question was taken up by MIT scientists who have been developing a blob-enhancer model of gene activation. In a 2017 Cell paper, the scientists described their computational studies of condensates, collections of molecules that form distinct cellular compartments but have no membrane separating them from the rest of the cell. These studies suggested that the blobby condensates, which are like oil droplets suspended in salad dressing, form at enhancers. In a 2018 Science paper, the researchers took the next step. They showed that their dynamic blobs really do form at enhancer locations. Made of clusters of TFs and other molecules, the blobs att...