Electrical wire properties of DNA linked to cancer

One of the biggest helpers in our bodies’ ongoing efforts to prevent DNA mutations–mutations that can lead to cancer–is actually rather tiny. Electrons, as it turns out, can signal proteins that repair DNA to patch up DNA damage. More specifically, the movement of electrons through DNA, traveling between repair proteins bound to the double helix, helps our cells scan for mistakes that regularly arise in our DNA.

Known as DNA charge transport, this biochemical process was first discovered in the early 1990s by Caltech’s Jacqueline Barton, the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry, through chemistry experiments using synthetic DNA. Her research group then found evidence that this charge transport chemistry might be utilized by bacterial DNA repair proteins. Now, a new study shows that DNA charge transport is also at work in human versions of DNA repair proteins–and that interruptions to this process may be linked to cancer.

“We have found that a mutation to a DNA repair protein associated with cancer can disrupt electron transport through DNA,” says Barton, who is also the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. She is the co-author of a new Nature Chemistry


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