While describing the discovery of DNA, biologist James Watson and Francis Crick presented the image of a twisting pair of strands they called the double helix. The rungs of each ladder were connected by chemical base pairs, known as nucleotides: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine: A, T, C, and G. 60 year’s later, researchers have found something even more surprising: a quadruple helix in human cells.
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In the place of the rungs, the twisting four-sided structure has a guanine nucleotide on each of the four corners, leading to the name G-quadruples.
Chemist Shankar Balasubramanian and his team from Cambridge found the DNA structure by using an engineered fluorescent antibody, designed to bind with any four-stranded form. The results were published in January, and they were able to trace the quadro-DNA to areas in the cells associated with growth: telomere and cancer-causing genes.
That leads molecular biologist David Tannahill to suspect G-quadruplexes may be linked to cancer. That could mean that deploying the engineered antibodies – which can halt the replication of quads – could be utilized as a means to treat malignant tumours.
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