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Single molecular 'mark' seen as pivotal for genome compaction in spores and sperm

PHILADELPHIA In higher order animals, genetic information is passed from parents to offspring via sperm or eggs, also known as gametes. In some single-celled organisms, such as yeast, the genes can be passed to the next generation in spores. In both reproductive strategies, major physical changes occur in the genetic material after it has been duplicated and then halved on the way to the production of mature gametes or spores. Near the end of the process, the material called chromatin, the substructure of chromosomes becomes dramatically compacted, reduced in volume to as little as five percent of its original volume.

Researchers at The Wistar Institute, studying the mechanisms that control how the genetic material is managed during gamete production, have now identified a single molecule whose presence is required for genome compaction. Their experiments showed that the molecule "marks" the chromatin just prior to compaction and that its presence is mandatory for successful compaction. Additionally, after first noting the molecule's activity during the production of yeast spores, the scientists saw the same activity during the creation of sperm in fruit flies and mice, suggesting that the mechanisms governing genome compaction are evolutionarily ancient, highly conserved in species whose lineages diverged long ago. A report on the new study appears in the September 15 issue of Genes & Development. A "Perspectives" review in the same issue expands on the significance of the findings.

"This molecular mark is required at a critical time leading up to genome compaction in spores and sperm," says Shelley L. Berger, Ph.D., the Hilary Koprowski Professor at The Wistar Institute and senior author on the study. "Also, there seems to be a similarity in the way the mark is used in organisms as different from each other as yeast and mammals, suggesting that compaction has been important throughout evolution."

Berger speculates that compaction
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Contact: Franklin Hoke
hoke@wistar.org
215-898-3716
The Wistar Institute
15-Sep-2006


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