A Moment of Science

The 3D Genome… Unraveling DNA

If you could unravel DNA from a single cell, it would be about six feet long! So how exactly does it fit inside the nucleus? Find out on this Moment of Science.

A strand of DNA.

Photo: Pieter Musterd (Flickr)

An unraveled strand of DNA from a single cell would be about six feet long.

On of our listeners wrote in with this question:

Dear A Moment of Science,

I know that every cell in my body has a copy of my DNA packed into its nucleus.  And I also know that if I could somehow unravel the DNA from a single cell, it would be about six feet long.  So my question is, is DNA jammed into the nucleus in a sort of random knot?

Great question!  Scientists know that DNA is able to fit into such a small space because it’s wound tightly around proteins.  But scientists also thought that DNA was randomly packed in. Researchers at MIT have figured out that that’s not true.

The way that DNA is packed in a cell nucleus is more organized. However, the researches aren’t certain–they’ve only discovered clues.  But based on what they’ve found, it seems that parts of DNA that are being transcribed are located together.

This is very key to the scientists’ studies. The way DNA is organized affects how it works. In fact, other studies have shown that genes that are near each other may affect one another. They can even switch each other on and off.

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