PerspectiveMolecular Biology

The secret life of histones

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Science  03 Jul 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6499, pp. 33
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc8242

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Summary

Histone proteins are the ubiquitous organizers of all eukaryotic genomes (1). Two each of the histones H2A, H2B, H3, and H4 form a disk-shaped assembly around which 147 base pairs (bp) of DNA are tightly coiled. Hundreds of thousands of these connected nucleosomes wrap up further to form chromosomes. The substantial sequence conservation between eukaryotic histones and the presence of simple histones in archaea (the presumed ancestors of all eukaryotes) suggest an ancient evolutionary origin of this type of genome organization (2). Certainly, there was no reason to believe that histones had any other function, let alone enzymatic activity. On page 59 of this issue, Attar et al. (3) describe the unexpected discovery that histone H3 has copper reductase activity in yeast (and likely in all) cells, suggesting that histones may have evolved to adapt to oxygenated life rather than for DNA compaction.

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