The Best of 2013 // #85: Four-Stranded Human DNA


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.

There’s more stories from 2013.  Check out the Best of 2013 series here

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