Advancing Epigenetics Towards Systems Biology

Nobel prize for transcription


Scanning electron microscope shows up beads on a string appearance of nucleosomes along the length of DNA, which with the help of RNA polymerase II becomes RNA (transcript hangs off at right angles to DNA)

Have you ever wondered how your genome works? Well, thanks to scientists like Roger Kornberg, awarded the 2006 Nobel prize for Chemistry, who has painstakingly studied the micromechanics of transcription, we're getting a much clearer picture of what happens inside the nucleus, and how the billions of metres of DNA in your body are converted into RNA by an enzyme called RNA polymerase II.

Brona McVittie reports :: October 2006

Evidently inspired by his dad, Arthur Kornberg, who won the Nobel prize in 1959 for his work on describing the DNA polymerase enzyme that facilitates DNA replication, young Roger published a research paper in 2001 that set the scientific community abuzz. Using X-ray crystallography, as was used to unravel the crystal structure of DNA, Kornberg's team created an intricately detailed architectural model of the enzyme.

Furthermore they caught RNA polymerase II in the act, as it were, of making RNA from DNA. Equipped with clamp, saddle, zipper, rudder, lid, linker, funnel and jaws, the masterful enzyme admits the DNA double-helix into a groove near the active site, via its jaws. DNA strands unwind, allowing RNA nucleotides, through a tiny pore, to line up along the DNA. The newly formed RNA molecules jut out at right angles before breaking away in search of ribosomes, where they instruct protein manufacture.

Although many researchers had a fair idea of transcription, mainly by inference, no one had ever before described the process in such detail with the crystallographic evidence. In fact, RNA polymerase II is part of a complex series of events that are necessary to tease DNA away from nucleosomes, little histone bundles also described (at least in part) by Kornberg. These basic units of chromatin (seen as beads on a string in the picture above) are common to most cells with a nucleus i.e. not bacteria, and are instrumental in gene regulation.

Around 150 base-pairs of DNA encircle every histone bundle (nucleosome). While this keeps the nucleus tidy, it doesn't help transcription, when DNA has to peel away from protein bundles to allow RNA polymerase II to make RNA. As Thomas Jenuwein (Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna) notes, "While DNA is the unit for genetic information, the nucleosome is the unit of epigenetic information that can respond to environmental signals and influence the way genes work. Roger Kornberg and other scientists have described the basic principles for the conversion of stored (DNA) to functional (RNA) information in eukaryotic chromatin."

Mon, May 29th 2017- Wed, May 31st 2017

After last year's successful kick-off meeting, the EpiGeneSwiss meeting will take place again in Weggis, Switzerland. This year we have added one day in addition to accommodate more topics and more t...

Mon, Jun 19th 2017- Wed, Jun 21st 2017

The focus of the 2017 IMB Conference is on “Gene Regulation by the Numbers: Quantitative Approaches to Study Transcription”. The conference will explore the latest findings and technological developme...

Tue, Jul 11th 2017- Thu, Jul 13th 2017

The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol invites all professionals interested in aetiological epidemiology and Mendelian randomization to attend our conference on the subject...

Wed, Aug 30th 2017- Fri, Sep 1st 2017

The nucleosome is the fundamental building block of chromatin organisation and genome function. The 20th anniversary of the high resolution nucleosome structure marks a milestone for bringing together...


EpiGeneSys Final
Meeting in Paris

Thur. 11 February 2016 - Sat. 13 February 2016

More than 280 scientists attended the fifth Annual Meeting of EpiGeneSys. The conference kicked off with a talk by coordinator Geneviève Almouzni, Director of the Research Center at the Institut Curie, highlighting the achievements of the network over more than five years...

Maison des océans - Paris Read more


The Non-Coding Genome ...

December 3-4 th, 2015

The last training workshop of the EpiGeneSys network

Hotel Mediterraneo - Rome, Italy Read more

Paris / TriRhena Chromatin Club

July 9th, 2015

...exciting talks and network with members of the Chromatin community!

... An EpiGeneSys TAB workshop

June 11st-12nd , 2015

... learn about current approaches to single cell epigenetics and to meet up and network with...

Montpellier, FranceRead more

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The impact of rare and low-frequency genetic variants in common disease.

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Stable Polycomb-dependent transgenerational inheritance of chromatin states in Drosophila.

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