[In Depth] An enhanced view of gene control

Author: Elizabeth Pennisi.
Although researchers have scrutinized genes as if they were Hollywood celebrities, the stretches of regulatory DNA called enhancers have largely stayed in the background, their workings a mystery. A recent genetics meeting signaled a change: In talk after talk, researchers described where and how these quiet fixers exert their influence. One group showed how enhancers maintain the right level of sensitivity to other signals, so that they switch on genes only at the right times and places. Others explored how cells package genes and their enhancers so that they can work together properly, and how DNA forms loops that bring enhancers right to the target gene. The advances even point to strategies for exploiting these regulatory elements to treat disease, by switching off disease genes and turning up the activity of healthy ones.