5 Things You Might Not Know About Your DNA
October 11, 2015
Even at the sublimely beautiful molecular level, humans are far from perfect. Over decades of research it’s clear; our DNA molecules are inherently unstable. So how do we survive? The answer is DNA repair mechanisms within our cells, multitudes of them, which see to it that we make it to the end of the day, after several million imperfect cell divisions, relatively intact.
This year the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard our genetic information. Here are some interesting facts regarding their research and the wonders of our genome:
- Thomas Lindal’s discoveries were born out of frustration in the lab. As a postdoc at Princeton in the late 1960’s DNA was assumed to be a very stable molecule. Lindal was working with RNA, a molecular cousin of DNA. When the RNA molecule continually broke down during his experiments he became suspicious that DNA couldn’t, in fact, be as stable as we thought.
- The reason our genetic material does not disintegrate into complete chemical chaos is that a host of molecular systems continuously monitor and repair DNA. Our cells are surrounded by a swarm of proteins that act as quality control editors, constantly proof-reading the genome and making repairs to any damage that has occurred.
- In human cells, even normal metabolic activity such as digestion and respiration can result in as many as 1 million molecular lesions per cell per day. Add to that UV radiation, cigarette smoke and environmental toxins and you start to understand the enormous triumph DNA repair is.
- An average adult’s DNA has already divided multiple billions of times and could stretch to the sun and back around 250 times. And yet your current DNA is remarkably similar to how it was as a fertilized egg.
- Ironically, DNA repair pathways can enable deadly tumour cells to survive damage induced by chemotherapeutic treatments. By understanding our inherent DNA repair process we may discover ways to inhibit cell repair specifically in cancer cells and prevent tumour replication.
For more in-depth information on the process of DNA repair and its possibilities for cancer treatments, follow:
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