Diabetes, space-saving DNA, and a very important gene
Last week, you might recall that we looked at a gene called PDX1, a critical DNA sequence that plays a role in the development of a certain type of diabetes—and the actual development of the pancreas in human embryos. Now, as Diabetes Awareness Month continues, let’s take a look at another gene with major implications for sugar regulation. This week we’re focusing on KLF11, an important player in histone modifications (more on that shortly) that can play a role in a rare form of diabetes known as Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY).
Every cell in the body has a nearly identical set of genes, but when and where these genes are read helps determine the identity and function of any given cell. For example, a neuron in the brain uses genes that instruct it on how to be a neuron. It is equally important that this neuron ignore other genes that carry instructions that are unrelated to neuron function. To do this, our body has developed ways of controlling when a gene is read.
Histone modifications relate to one method of controlling access to genes. DNA is stored within our cells as a combination of both DNA and a class of proteins known as histones. Histones are like genetic “hair curlers,” in that DNA can be wound tightly around them. This allows large amounts of DNA (around 6 feet of DNA in a single cell!) to be stored in microscopic structures known as chromatin. This can be problematic, though, because tight winding of the DNA can leave genes inaccessible—they can’t be used if they’re too tightly wound up.
This is where histone modification comes into Continue reading