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Transposons vs Cancer

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It seems that one problem with having a DNA based genome is the existence of transposons. These things can be considered the simplest form of life: mobile stretches of DNA that duplicate themselves and hop around in the genome. They are the ancient enemy of DNA-based life, possibly dating back to the RNA world before DNA came into use as genetic material. I have linked some reviews that hopefully folks interested will be able to open. One problem with transposons is they hop into the middle of a gene the organism needs, screwing it up. Another problem is that all the transposons hanging around become "junk DNA", which the organism is obligated to replicate, but that does no good.

Knowing that these things are in the genome, waiting to start hopping, means that there must be many failsafes intended to keep them in check. But now consider cancer. Cancer is a disease of multicellular critters. For a cell to become cancerous implies both genetic instability (mutation) and a failure of some of the failsafe mechanisms by which cells kill themselves (apoptosis) if the cell perceives that it has become screwed up and out of control.

If cancer cells are losing their self-control because of uncontrolled mutation, sometimes they might also lose the ancient failsafes that suppress transposons. You would never be able to detect such a cancer cell by analysing it because presumably the transposons would replicate and hop madly about, causing damage even the cancer cell could not withstand.

It may be possible to make a drug that blocks one or more failsafe against transposons, and have it be selectively toxic against cancer. If a cancer cell has lost many but not all of the protective mechanisms against transposons, blocking that remaining one could be devastating for the cancer. The normal cells have other backup anti-transposon systems in place, and so could fall back on them when one was blocked.

This should be testable in cancer cell culture. One could do quantitative PCR for transposon sequences before and after treatment with a drug intended to unlease transposons.

bungston, Nov 12 2004

Transposon review http://www.sciencem...04&tdate=11/30/2004
[bungston, Nov 12 2004]


       "In business news today, BUNGCO bought out embattled drug-maker rival Merck in a hostile takeover bid of $0.23 per share.
RayfordSteele, Nov 15 2004

       Neat idea :-) However, I'm not sure that it follows that cancer cells are predisposed to transposon-hopping. I guess they should be more mutation- prone, if only because they are replicating faster and must have already lost some of the checks against mutation-induced apoptosis. But I think it's a long shot to hope that they'd be that much more susceptible to having their transposons "released" to wreak havoc. Also, is it not likely that some cancers are induced by hopping transposons in normal cells? If so, by raising the risk of hopping in all the normal cells of the body, you'd run the risk of creating more cancerous cells than you'd kill. Still a neat idea, though! [+]
Basepair, Feb 27 2005


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