Physicists confirm there’s a second layer of information hidden in our DNA

Space-filling model animation of B-DNA. Image:

Theoretical physicists have confirmed that it’s not just the information coded into our DNA that shapes who we are – it’s also the way DNA folds itself that controls which genes are expressed inside our bodies.

By Fiona MacDonald | science alert

That’s something biologists have known for years, and they’ve even been able to figure out some of the proteins responsible for folding up DNA. But now a group of physicists have been able to demonstrate for the first time through simulations how this hidden information controls our evolution.

Let’s back up for a second here, because although it’s not necessarily news to many scientists, this second level of DNA information might not be something you’re familiar with.

As you probably learnt in high school, Watson and Crick discovered in 1953 that the DNA code that determines who we are is made up of a sequence of the letters G, A, C, and T.

The order of these letters determines which proteins are made in our cells. So, if you have brown eyes, it’s because your DNA contains a particular series of letters that encodes for a protein that makes the dark pigment inside your iris.

But that’s not the whole story, because all the cells in your body start out with the exact same DNA code, but every organ has a very different function – your stomach cells don’t need to produce the brown eye protein, but they do need to produce digestive enzymes. So how does that work?

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