Shining a Light on the Dark Side of Science – Institute for Molecular Biology
Enakshi Sinniah has fallen to the dark side.
Here she navigates genetic “dark matter” and explores how its unknown powers can be harnessed to regenerate cells, modify genes, treat or even cure disease. I’m here.
It might sound like a synopsis for a superhero blockbuster, but a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Molecular Biology is trying to bring science fiction to life.
“In simple terms, our cells have 3.2 billion base pairs of DNA called the genome,” Sinniah says.
“What people don’t realize is that out of all those 3.2 billion base pairs, genes only make up about 2%.
“The remaining 98% of the genome is what we call dark matter. Scientists actually called it ‘junk DNA.’
Dark matter mapping
Over time, researchers began mapping dark matter, discovering that it contains caches of elements that play important roles throughout the human body.
Granted unprecedented access to this dark side of the genome, Sinniah studies how to use 98% of it to study cell function, development, and disease.
Using a computational algorithm called TRIAGE, which she and her fellow researchers developed, she sifts through the dark matter and “denoises” the critical parts of DNA — the parts that cause disease and those that cure it. You can pick out the possible parts. .
Although her play with dark matter applies to the entire human body, Sinniah’s special interest is the heart.
In this field, she employs another tool to explore uncharted territory: stem cells.
Using stem cells to grow beating heart tissue
“All cells in our body are derived from stem cells. In our lab, we use stem cells to grow beating heart tissue in culture dishes to give a concrete and tangible picture of human heart development. We model it in a controllable way so that it can be safely tested and experimented with in heart cells,” she explains.
“For a long time, scientists focused on only 2% of the genome. to better model the development of the heart in humans and explore what influences and causes disease.
“Using stem cells as a model for that allows me to not only use hypotheses, but to validate my own research questions.”
Join the discussion with Enakshi Sinniah and Geoff Cobham, Creative Director of Patch Theater (ZOOOM). Click the image below to purchase tickets.