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DNA Modification Mechanisms and Gene Activity during Development

R. Holliday, J. E. Pugh


It is generally accepted that the differentiated state of a given type of cell is associated with the activity of a particular set of genes, together with the total inactivity of those sets associated with the differentiation of other cell types. It is also clear that the differentiated state of dividing or nondividing cells is often extremely stable. In this article we suggest mechanisms that may account for this stability and that also attempt to explain the ordered switching on or off of genes during development.

The phenotype of the organism depends on the genotype, and the genetic contribution from both parents is in almost all cases equal. Since the ultimate control of development resides in the genetic material, the actual program must be written in base sequences in the DNA. It is also clear that cytoplasmic components can have a powerful or overriding influence on genomic activity in particular cells, yet these cytoplasmic components are, of course, usually derived from the activity of genes at some earlier stage in development. A continual interaction between cytoplasmic enzymes and DNA sequences is an essential part of the model to be presented.

Modification Enzymes
In bacteria, enzymes exist which modify DNA by methylating adenine in the 6-position (1). These enzymes are extremely specific in their action; they modify bases at particular positions in short defined sequences of DNA, which, at least in some instances, form a palindrome. (A palindrome in DNA is an inverted duplication, with twofold rotational symmetry. The 3′ →...

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