Chromatin is a system of proteins, RNA, and DNA that interact with each other to organize and regulate genetic information within eukaryotic nuclei. Chromatin proteins carry out essential functions: packing DNA during cell division, partitioning DNA into sub-regions within the nucleus, and controlling levels of gene expression. There is a growing interest in manipulating chromatin dynamics for applications in medicine and agriculture. Progress in this area requires the identification of design rules for the chromatin system. Here, we focus on the relationship between the physical structure and function of chromatin proteins. We discuss key research that has elucidated the intrinsic properties of chromatin proteins and how this information informs design rules for synthetic systems. Recent work demonstrates that chromatin-derived peptide motifs are portable and in some cases can be customized to alter their function. Finally, we present a workflow for fusion protein design and discuss best practices for engineering chromatin to assist scientists in advancing the field of synthetic epigenetics.
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