We like to think of DNA as strings of nucleotides, neatly arranged into a tidy double helix. As usual, nature is resistant to keeping things neat and tidy, usually for a good reason. esearchers at Great Britain's National Physical Laboratory used a technique called "soft-touch" atomic force microscopy to measure how regular the DNA double helix is, and found that it's not regular at all. There are enormous variations in the distance between the grooves in the double helix, as well as the depth of those grooves. But it's not sloppy: it's life.
The grooves in question are more than just a side-effect of the structure of the DNA: they serve as locations for proteins to bind to the DNA, controlling whether and how genes are expressed inside living cells. In other words, these grooves are an integral part of making life work, and it's important to understand how their variation can alter genetic expression. The researchers haven't gotten nearly this far yet, but being able to quantify structural changes in individual strands of DNA is the place to start.
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