To fold or not to fold: the inner workings of our DNA

During their guided lab tour with the title “Fitting a python inside a matchbox: The folding of DNA in the cell nucleus”, the research group led by MDC scientist Ana Pombo will take their audience on a journey deep into our cells, revealing basic biological mechanisms and kindling fascination for research.

Deoxyribonucleic acid, short DNA, which carries our genetic information, is constantly being read and processed in our bodies’ cells in mechanisms that are vital for life. By offering a guided lab tour, Ana Pombo and her team want to communicate their work and insights on these fundamental biological issues.

Ana Pombo. Image: David Ausserhofer / MDC

“Think of DNA as a library: Certain areas are activated for certain functions in the body, just like you take books you need for a specific topic from the shelves in a certain subject area,” says Ana Pombo. Their focus is on how organisms use their ‘library’, i.e. their DNA – and on how things can also go wrong, causing diseases and other problems.

“We want to convey two messages: Firstly, that it matters how the DNA is folded, that the folding itself contains information, and what can happen when the folding is faulty.  Secondly, we want to show how we actually work here,” says Franka Rang, a member of Ana Pombo’s group. She and the team designed the tour together. The first part is a basic introduction to DNA folding in the cell nucleus. The researchers will then explain their work at different stations. After that, the participants can try their hand at dyeing DNA-strands in cell nuclei under a microscope using a fluorescent dye, thus revealing their folding patterns. Everyone gets to take home a print-out of their own “DNA python”.

Ana Pombo hopes that the tour will attract many school-aged visitors: “Our lab tour is a great opportunity to show young people that research is really exciting – we want to kindle that same spark that we feel when we do our work,” the researcher says.

The Long Night of Sciences at Campus Buch

Guided lab tour: “Fitting a python inside a matchbox: The folding of DNA in the cell nucleus”, June 24, 6.45pm; meet at the info point in the foyer, MDC.C.

More information

Featured image: “Folded” DNA by Darryl Leja and Ernesto Del Aguila III, NHGRI. License: CC BY-NC 2.0