All eukaryotes organize their DNA into nucleosomes, consisting of an octamer of the four core histone proteins H2A, H2B, H3, and H4, around which 147 base pairs of DNA are wrapped in two tight superhelical turns. Histones were an early acquisition in eukaryogenesis that allowed for massive genome expansion, a prerequisite for the diversity observed in modern-day eukaryotes. They are the targets of epigenetic modifications through the incorporation of histone variants and histone post-translational modifications, and require elaborate assembly and remodeling machinery for gene regulation. Who provided the chromatin starter kit to the early eukaryote? Many archaea organize their genomes with single, non-diversified histones that form slinky-like structures, without the requirement for additional machinery to assemble and disassemble nucleosomal structures. A subclass of giant viruses (ancient double-stranded DNA viruses that infect amoebae) also encode their own histones, and these form meta-stable nucleosome-like structures with distinct features. Unexpectedly, it was recently discovered that histones are sporadically present in the bacterial domain of life. In a stunning reversal of ‘histone logic’, these small histones encase straight DNA rather than wrapping it around them. As such, histones are no longer a prerogative of eukaryotes but appear to be an ancient DNA packaging principle that has adapted to varying constraints in different domains of life.
Jennie Smoly Caruthers Endowed Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute InvestigatorView Slides
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