If you've ever studied genetics in school or college, you'll know that the structure of DNA is a double helix. You likely know that DNA carries all of our genetic code. While traditionally we think of only double helix DNA, scientists from Cambridge University in England have made an interesting discovery.
According to the researchers, a quadruple helix is also present in some cells and is believed to relate to cancer in some ways. According to the researchers, controlling these quadruple helix structures could provide new ways to fight cancer. The scientists believe the quadruple helix may form when the cell has a certain genotype or operates in a certain dysfunctional state.
Scientists have been able to produce quadruple helix material in test tubes for years. The material produced is called the G-quadruplex. The G refers to guanine, which is one of the base pairs that hold DNA together. The new research performed at the University is believed to be the first to firmly pinpoint quadruple helix in human cells.
The team of scientists were able to produce specific antibody proteins designed to track down and find to regions of human DNA rich in the quadruplex structure. The antibodies were tagged with a florescence marker so the emergence of the structures in the cell could be tracked and imaged. The researchers were able to determine that most frequent occurrence of the quadruple helix DNA arose during the "S-phase" when a cell copies DNA prior to dividing. The G-quadruplex could be implemented in the development of some cancers according to the researchers and they believe that it could be possible to make synthetic molecules that contain the structure and block the runaway cell proliferation that cause tumors.
"The existence of these structures may be loaded when the cell has a certain genotype or a certain dysfunctional state," said Prof Shankar Balasubramanian from Cambridge's department of chemistry.
"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," he told BBC News.