Image via WIRED
There might be more to that cellophane-wrapped package of ramen noodles than you think. In fact, computational biophysicist Erez Lieberman Aiden is using this lowly dorm room staple to make some very erudite observations about chromosomes; those long, noodle-ly spools of DNA and protein coiled inside cells. A fellow at Harvard, Aiden uses these simple noodles to make points about the fractal topology of chromosomes. Where some people see a humble dinner, Aiden sees some especially complex food for thought.
Often depicted in neat X-shaped structures by biology textbooks and popular science iconography, chromosomes should behave this way—but they don’t. Instead, chromosomes take on what’s called a “fractal globule” form: A twisted, loopy state that’s extraordinarily dense, yet completely untangled. Imagine pulling out a single noodle without disturbing the rest. In 2009, Aiden and his colleagues unveiled Hi-C, a new technique for reverse-engineering the structure of chromosomes, which was quickly seen as a breakthrough in finding the genomic black box. Now set on unraveling the unanswered questions on how genomic form relates to function, Aiden has redefined the idea of “using your noodle.”