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The Cellular Two-Step

A breakthrough at Indiana University in epigenetics research could aid in cancer treatments.

Arabidopsis thaliana is a common plant used for genetics research.

Photo: AnneTanne / Flickr

Arabidopsis thaliana is a common plant used for genetics research.

Indiana University researchers say they’ve made a discovery in the field of epigenetics, the study of the chemical structures surrounding DNA, that could help cancer research.

IU biology professor Craig Pikaard and his team have discovered one of the mechanisms that Arabidopsis thaliana (rockcress) plant cells use to interpret DNA code to turn genes off.

The two-step process starts with chemical markers on the DNA strands that identify which genes will be turned off. Then the actual cellular machinery arrives to turn those genes off.

“What’s thought to happen is that there are genes that are normally off that are now turned on in the cancer cell,” Pikaard says. “And vice versa, there are other genes that are normally active that get silenced. And those changes, whether they’re on or off are due to those same modifications of DNA and the proteins that wrap DNA.”

Pikaard says understanding the two-step process could help improve targeted gene therapy treatments for cancer.

Jashin Lin

Jashin Lin is a reporter/videographer for WFIU and WTIU news. She has previously worked as a videographer/web producer for MO.gov and as a reporter/videographer for the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She studied multimedia journalism and information technology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. You can follow her on Twitter @jashinlin.

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