Scientists have achieved a historic milestone by observing for the first time in living human cells the formation of a strange Four-stranded DNA.
This unusual DNA has twice as many strands in its «helix» as normal in human cells, and observing how they form is of great importance in the study of life.
Although its existence was already suspected in the 1990s, it was not until 2018 that this type of DNA could be observed for the first time in dead cells in laboratory tests.
But until now it had not been seen how it formed, acted and disappeared, since a way to do it had not been found in living cells.
The importance of being able to have a way of seeing how four-stranded DNA operates is beyond imagination, as it practically opens up a new stream of research on how human genetics works.
In this sense, you may be interested in knowing: Curiosities of the Human Body
What is the unusual four-stranded DNA?
On April 25, 1953, the journal Nature published an article that proposed the definitive form of the «molecule of life» or DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which contains the genetic information of the cells of animals and plants.
This proposal was made by researchers Rosalind Franklin, James Watson and Francis Crick, who assured that DNA was in the form of a double helix made up of two protein strands intertwined by genes that come out of each one like arms.
DNA is a complex protein that saves the genetic information of the cell and reproduces it in each new generation or copy of it.
But more than 6 decades of DNA discovery, we have learned that it does not always have the double helix shape or behave as we thought.
A new form of DNA is discovered
In 2018 an Australian team managed to visualize the first structures of Four-stranded DNA in human cells, which were baptized as «i-motif» (Anglo-Saxon term for intercalated motif).
But the problem is that the Four-stranded DNA was only visible in dead cells or subjected to very high concentrations of chemical reagents that in real life would have annihilated any individual.
Therefore, this is the first time that the formation of this unusual four-helix DNA in living cells under natural conditions.
By the way, for those who are curious about the appearance of the i-motif, experts say that it resembles a «knot» within the nucleus of the cell «.
How was it possible to see the formation of this unusual DNA?
This discovery was made possible by the development of a novel fluorescent marker able to adhere to four-stranded DNA in living human cells.
This marker was created by a mixed team of British researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Leeds and Imperial College London.
The leader of this team, Marco Di Antonio, explained that because the marker does not destroy cells, it was possible to follow the process of formation of 4-stranded DNA and collect data on their function within them.
The first result is shocking, since it is shown that the Four-stranded DNA formation is not an atypical phenomenonRather, it occurs as part of normal cell division processes.
«This is going to force us to rethink the biology of DNA and how it works,» said Di Antonio, who pointed out that being able to see the formation of this structure in real time could drive the development of therapies against diseases such as cancer.
Undoubtedly this is something that arouses the interest of the public, since each year millions of people suffer from oncological diseases, such as breast or ovarian cancer, which are some of the seven diseases that affect women the most.
Fight against cancer
This statement arises from the fact that the Four-helix DNA appears to be closely related to the process of genomic regulation.
The team that discovered i-motifs in 2018 had already determined that they could be related to the functioning of the system that activates certain genes responsible for certain molecular mechanisms.
This system is of vital importance, because if it fails, an accelerated multiplication of its cells could begin, which would lead to the appearance of tumors or degenerative diseases.
Therefore, the power seeing this unusual DNA in action will allow you to trace the linked genes and determine how they are involved in the development of cancer, which will help improve procedures to detect this disease.
One of these cases is silent prostate cancer, which does not usually have symptoms until it is late, but if it is discovered in time it is not usually fatal.
Possible anti aging therapy?
Finally, the work of the British team opens the doors for another possible area of medical development, the fight against old age.
This is because the live observation method created by them will allow determining the how four-stranded DNA is involved in cell aging.
It had already been discovered that i-motifs are transitory structures that appear in an advanced moment of cell life where there is greater growth.
Transient i-motifs are thought to form in the «late G1» phase, which is the time when DNA is read to be copied into new daughter cells of the original cell.
In addition, they are related to telomeres, structures that cover chromosomes and are known to participate in the aging of cells.
In this way, in a short time it will be possible determine the genetic markers that activate or deactivate aging and how this knot-shaped form of DNA can influence them.
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