Rhea Datta.
Assistant Professor of Biology Rhea Datta recently published an article in the journal BioEssays. Titled “The power of the (imperfect) palindrome: Sequence-specific roles of palindromic motifs in gene regulation,” the paper was co-authored by Jens Rister and is part of an ongoing collaboration with Rister’s research lab at UMass Boston.
Datta studies DNA sequences that control how genes are switched on or off in the embryonic head and the developing retina. These sequences are called regulatory DNA; a special type of regulatory DNA sequence is the palindrome.

She said that “in DNA palindromes, the first half of the palindromic DNA sequence (the left ‘half-site’) is repeated as its reverse complement (the right ‘half-site’) on the same DNA strand and thus follows in reverse orientation on the opposite strand (e.g., 5’ TAATTGAATTA 3’ and 3’ ATTAACTTAAT 5’). Regulatory palindromes are typically imperfect, that is, the repeated sequences differ in at least one base pair,” she said, “but the functional significance of this asymmetry remains poorly understood.”

In their paper, Datta and Rister review the use of imperfect palindromes in Drosophila photoreceptor differentiation and mammalian steroid receptor signaling, and discuss mechanistic explanations for the predominance of imperfect palindromes over perfect palindromes in these two gene regulatory contexts.

The authors also explore whether particular imperfectly palindromic variants have specific regulatory functions in steroid receptor signaling and whether such variants can help predict transcriptional outcomes as well as the response of individual patients to drug treatments.

Grace Carey ’21 and Addie Dumm ’22, who have been working with Datta on this project, are acknowledged in the manuscript. Both have worked on the functional significance of DNA palindromes for their senior thesis projects. Dumm is currently cloning DNA palindromes to test their functionality in early embryogenesis.

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