'Quadruple DNA' Seen for 1st Time

Discovery could aid battle against cancer

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 21, 2013 3:30 PM CST

(Newser) – Scientists have spotted four-stranded DNA in humans for the first time and say it could provide a key to fighting cancer, the BBC reports. A Cambridge University team revealed the find to Nature Chemistry last year, saying the "quadruple helix" may arise when a cell is unstable or in a dysfunctional state—like one that leads to cancer. "We need to prove that; but if that is the case, targeting them with synthetic molecules could be an interesting way of selectively targeting those cells that have this dysfunction," said Cambridge chemist Shankar Balasubramanian.

They found that four-stranded DNA occurred most often when a cell is copying its DNA right before dividing. That could link the quadruple helix to cancers, which are often caused by genes that mutate to boost DNA replication. Perhaps synthetic molecules could curb the out-of-control cell proliferation that leads to tumors: "I'm hoping now that the pharmaceutical companies will bring this on to their radar," said Balasubramanian. Some 60 years ago, two other Cambridge scientists burst into a pub and announced their discovery of the "secret to life": the DNA double helix.

The quadruple helix.
The quadruple helix.   (Cambridge University/Jean-Paul Rodriguez and Giulia Biffi)
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