What is more, certain neighbourhoods tend to correspond with parts of the genome that are tagged with chemical markers that are known to modify the activity of genes. It is as if all the buildings in that particular neighbourhood all have yellow-painted doors. The new map of the genome suggests there is apparently some benefit for the smooth running of the cell if the folds of the chromosome are arranged in a way that reflects and reinforces this chemical coding. But – as with so much science – it is not yet clear why.
It will take a lot more work to figure out how this three-dimensional organisation controls the activity of the genes. But the better we can get to grips with the rules, the more chance we will have of imposing our own plans on the genome. If we can, then it opens up exciting possibilities for tackling diseases such as cancer using genetic engineering.
This is currently done by a complex process of cutting, pasting and editing the genetic text of DNA to replace or silence a faulty gene. But understanding the shape of your genome opens up the possibility of silencing or awakening genes with the genetic equivalent of origami.