A bioinformatics group from CHOP collaborated with researchers from Rutgers University to uncover details of an essential process in life: how a crucial enzyme locates the site on DNA where it begins to direct the synthesis of RNA.

"The algorithms we developed enable us to tackle many questions across diverse areas of DNA and RNA biology," said Deanne Taylor, PhD, director of bioinformatics in the Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics at CHOP and research assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Understanding these fundamental processes may help in developing antimicrobial treatments to fight bacterial disease."

Dr. Taylor co-authored the study, which was published online this week in the journal Science.

In the study, Dr. Taylor and Yuanchao Zhang, a graduate student working with her bioinformatics group at CHOP, developed big-data algorithms to analyze sequencing data output from new experimental approaches developed by the CHOP/Rutgers team. These chemical and biochemical approaches generated vastly more data than previous methods, enabling this new discovery.

In their work with bacteria, the team found a next step that occurs after the enzyme RNA polymerase binds to DNA and partly unwinds the two strands of the DNA helix to begin translating DNA into RNA: The enzyme then continues unwinding those two strands, pulling the unwound DNA strands into itself until it engages the transcription start site. The researchers call this process "DNA scrunching".

Read more in the press release from The Children's Hospital.