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Tunnacliffe and Chubb TIG Review: What is a transcriptional burst?

The idea that gene activity can be discontinuous will not surprise many biologists – many genes are restricted in when and where they can be expressed. Yet during the past 15 years, a collection of observations compiled under the umbrella term ‘transcriptional bursting’ has received considerable interest. Direct visualization of the dynamics of discontinuous transcription has expanded our understanding of basic transcriptional mechanisms and their regulation, and provides a real-time readout of gene activity during the life of a cell. In a recent review in Trends in Genetics, Ed Tunnacliffe and Jonathan Chubb try to reconcile the different views of the transcriptional process emerging from studies of bursting, and how this work contextualizes the relative importance of different regulatory inputs to normal dynamic ranges of gene activity.