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Seeing the Interactions

Oxford University researchers have been diving into virtual reality to visualize how genes and their regulatory elements interact, according to

They say the idea came from seeing a presentation at a conference about protein modeling from researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London. Stephen Taylor, a computational biologist at Oxford, says they then began working together, along with physicists at the University of Naples, to combine genome sequencing, DNA interaction, and microscopy data.

"Being able to visualize such data is important because the human brain is very good at pattern recognition — we tend to think visually," Taylor says, according to the press release posted to

He and his colleagues hope to better understand how DNA interacts with its regulatory elements to see how that influences human disease. So far, they've been focusing on the human alpha globin gene cluster, but say this virtual reality approach could be used to study other diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

"Having virtual reality tools like this will enable researchers to efficiently combine their data to gain a much broader understanding of how the organization of the genome affects gene expression, and how mutations and variants affect such interactions," adds Oxford's Doug Higgs.