body is a marvelous, hard-working machine. Every day, every second,
the two billion or so cells in your body are busy replicating, dividing
and dying. This series of carefully synchronized steps starts with
each cell making a copy of its DNA, the master molecule that encodes
the genetic script of life. If a cell makes a mistake in replication,
enzymes move in to call a halt to the process until the damage can
be repaired. If the cell is too badly damaged, other enzymes trigger
a signal that makes the cell commit suicide.
along the way, some DNA damage stays put and gets transmitted to
future copies that the cell makes of itself. With the right - or
wrong - collection of environmental and genetic influences, the
long process of cancer begins.
the first sign of DNA damage, long before the bad copies become
malignant, researchers like Stephen Kowalczykowski are studying
them. A professor of microbiology at UC Davis, Kowalczykowski is
interested in how proteins interact with DNA to make repairs. It's
a crucial scientific question and one with implications for a host
of human diseases, including cancer.
cancers are caused by a type of DNA rearrangement called a translocation,
in which a piece of genetic code moves from its normal position
on the chromosome to another location. If the DNA segment moves
in front of a gene, it can make the gene become inappropriately
activated, either "turned off" or "turned on."
This is bad news if the gene that's altered has something to do
with making cells grow or not die when they're supposed to, two
steps necessary for carcinogenesis.
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kowski studies genetic damage long before it turns up in disease