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Single-cell technique maps environmental effects on DNA

Posted on Jul 21 2014 | IANS

London, July 21 : Scientists have developed a powerful new single-cell technique that can help investigate how the environment affects our development and the traits we inherit from our parents.

The technique can be used to map all of the "epigenetic marks" on the DNA within a single-cell.

"Epigenetic marks" are chemical tags or proteins that mark DNA and act as a kind of cellular memory.

However, environmental cues such as diet can alter where epigenetic tags are laid down on DNA and influence an organism's long-term health.

"The ability to capture the full map of these epigenetic marks from individual cells will be critical for a full understanding of early embryonic development, cancer progression and aid the development of stem cell therapies," said Gavin Kelsey from the Babraham Institute in Britain.

The research on mice offers a new single-cell technique capable of analysing DNA methylation - one of the key epigenetic marks - across the whole genome.

The method treats the cellular DNA with a chemical called bisulphite.

Treated DNA is then amplified and read on high-throughput sequencing machines to show up the location of methylation marks and the genes being affected.

"These analyses will help to define how epigenetic changes in individual cells during early development drive cell fate," Kelsey added.

The research, published in the journal Nature Methods, was conducted in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's Single Cell Genomics Centre.

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