Cryo-electron microscopy reveals shape of heterochromatin

Heterochromatin is a chromatin which efficiently regulates genes due to its dense packing of the DNA. Though how the structural basis of heterochromatin is formed became clearer in recent years, the actual structure remained unknown since imaging it was difficult because of its flexibility and microscopic size.

According to a recent study published in Molecular Cell, scientists from Waseda University, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology and the National Institute of for Basic Biology became the first to successfully visualize the structure of heterochromatin.

“We discovered that heterochromatin looks something like a wireless headphone,” says Hitoshi Kurumizaka, professor of structural biology at Waseda University and leading scientist of this study. “Imaging heterochromatin became possible because of cryo-electron microscopy. Our study demonstrates Japan’s international competitiveness in structural biology research using this technique.”