Research NewsMolecular Biology

Chemical Shackles for Genes?

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Science  02 Aug 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5275, pp. 574-575
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5275.574


For years, researchers have thought that addition of a methyl group to the cell's DNA might be one of nature's ways of shackling the activity of genes that become unnecessary as development proceeds. Proving that has been difficult, however. But recent findings in both the plant Arabidopsis thaliana and in mice provide some of the best evidence yet for that idea. As reported on page 654, the work shows that genetic modifications that reduce methylation lead to developmental abnormalities. Arabidopsis development is prolonged so that the plants make more leaves than normal before flowering, and the flowers themselves are abnormal. Still unclear, however, is exactly how methylation alters gene expression and development.