ANN ARBOR, Mich., Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Michigan say they've discovered tension on DNA molecules can affect gene expression -- the basis of biological function.
The scientists say their work is apparently the first to actually demonstrate a mechanical effect at work in the expressing of genes.
"We have shown that small forces can control the machinery that turns genes on and off," said Associate Professor Jens-Christian Meiners. "There's more to gene regulation than biochemistry. We have to look at mechanics too."
He said a better understanding of how cells regulate themselves could lead to new insights into how the process could fail and lead to disease.
"When cells start to misinterpret regulatory signals, cardiac disease, birth defects and cancer can result," added research fellow Joshua Milstein. "In fact, mechanical signals have been implicated as a culprit in a variety of pathologies."
Meiners and his team said they are striving for a quantitative understanding of the biological process. He likens the current state of our understanding of gene expression to a diagram. He is searching for equations, and the new results begin to provide that information.
The study is reported in the journal Physical Review Letters.