DNA Can Dance
DNA gave researchers a surprise by showing a whole new side of itself. A simple DNA strand has been been observed "leaping" out of its usual double helix into a variety of shapes while remaining fully functional. It appears that DNA takes an alternate form about one percent of the time. The "data suggests that there are multiple layers of information stored in the genetic code," according to doctor Al-Hashimi of the University of Michigan.
The research team adapted existing nuclear magnetic resonance technology and applied it to the base of the spiraling DNA structure, which resulted in transient alterations of the basic form. The application of the NMR allowed for the chemical shifts in the DNA structure to be read like fingerprints and to analyze the unique structures that it created, like the base flipping 180 degrees.
Without having to use X-ray techniques that can't detect rare and split-second structural changes, the use of NMR gave the capability to study these very rare states in nucleic acids and offers a new level of insight of what is contained within the genetic code, expanding our knowledge about the building blocks of life.
Image: "DNA origami" by Ethan Hein on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.