Researchers from the University of Oxford have been using Virtual Reality to look at interactive models of genes. The simulations use data combined from genome sequencing, data on the interactions of DNA and microscopy data. It lets you see which parts of the genome sit interact with each other in physical space. regions interact with each other.
The team from the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM) have been working in collaboration with physicists from Universita di Napoli and software developers and artists at Goldsmiths, University of London.
‘Being able to visualise such data is important because the human brain is very good at pattern recognition – we tend to think visually,’ said Stephen Taylor, Head of the Computational Biology Research Group at the MRC WIMM.
‘It began at a conference back in 2014 when we saw a demonstration by researchers from Goldsmiths who had used software called CSynth to model proteins in three dimensions. We began working with them, feeding in seemingly incomprehensible information derived from our studies of the human alpha globin gene cluster and we were amazed that what we saw on the screen was an instantly recognisable model.’
Prof Jim Hughes, Associate Professor of Genome Biology at Oxford University, said: ‘There are more than three billion base pairs in the human genome, and a change in just one of these can cause a problem. As a model we’ve been looking at the human alpha globin gene cluster to understand how variants in genes and their regulatory elements may cause human genetic disease.
‘Our ultimate aim in this area is to correct the faulty gene or its regulatory elements and be able to re-introduce the corrected cells into a patient’s bone marrow: to perfect this we have to fully understand how genes and their regulatory elements interact with one another.
‘Having virtual reality tools like this will enable researchers to efficiently combine their data to gain a much broader understanding of how the organisation of the genome affects gene expression, and how mutations and variants affect such interactions.’
Seems like every week, if not nearly every day, scientists from every field of research find a way to incorporate Virtual Reality in their quest for answers and solutions.