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NWO Projectruimte Grant for DNA Flexibility Research

Theoretical physicist Helmut Schiessel receives an NWO Projectruimte grant of 390,000 euro. He will use this budget to hire a postdoc and a PhD student to continue his research on flexibility of double stranded DNA.

During his prior research, Schiessel already confirmed the existence of a second layer of information in DNA, hidden in its mechanical properties. The flexibility or stiffness at specific places on a strand determines how DNA folds and consequently which information is read out and converted into the corresponding proteins.

Later he discovered a new general rule in biophysics: unicellular species—like yeast—are characterized by stiff stretches in their DNA sequence at the beginning of genes, while multicellular lifeforms—like humans, mice or zebrafish—have soft stretches instead.

The NWO Projectruimte grant enables him to further explore the subject. ‘We want to explore all possibilities of DNA shapes,’ Schiessel says. ‘For example if we simulate a spiral shape, we want to see how tightly wound it can be.’ He will also look into the influence of mechanical cues on the position of so-called nucleosomes—DNA parts that are wrapped. ‘We want to show that in our simulation we can place the nucleosomes anywhere on a whole genome by changing mechanical cues.’

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