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© Springer 2007. Although we have a draft sequence of the human genome, little is known about how the chromatin fiber is packed in three-dimensional (3D) space, or how packing affects function (Jackson 2003). We know packing plays a major role; the rate of transcription of a typical gene can vary over eight orders of magnitude (Ivarie et al. 1983), but deleting local elements like promoters and enhancers reduces expression by less than 5000-fold in transient transfection assays where the 3D context is missing. Common sense suggests the fiber cannot be packed randomly, but elucidating what any underlying order might be has proved difficult. First, the foldings of the chromatin fiber have dimensions below the resolution (≈200 nm) of the light microscope (LM) and so can only be seen by electron microscopy (EM), but then the fixation required can distort structure. Second, DNA is so long and packed so tightly it breaks and/or aggregates easily on isolation. Third, chromatin is poised in a metastable state so small charge alterations trigger changes in structure and function, and replacing the natural environment with our buffers often promotes aggregation.

Original publication





Book title

Nuclear Dynamics: Molecular Biology and Visualization of the Nucleus

Publication Date



177 - 195