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Scientists throw new light on DNA copying process

Posted on 18 April 2013

Research led by a scientist at the University of York has thrown new light on the way breakdowns in the DNA copying process inside cells can contribute to cancer and other diseases.

Right: Cells have DNA copying machines that pause frequently and break down, resulting in mutations and cell death. These extreme effects on genome stability initially cause the cells to grow extremely long. Left: Cells with no defects in the DNA copying process. (DNA can be seen as the intensely fluorescent signals inside the cells).

Peter McGlynn, an Anniversary Professor in the University’s Department of Biology, led a team of researchers who have discovered that the protein machines that copy DNA in a model organism pause frequently during this copying process, creating the potential for dangerous mutations to develop.  

The research, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), involved scientists at the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, where Professor McGlynn worked previously, the Centre for Genetics and Genomics at the Queen’s Medical Centre, University of Nottingham and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

The project focused on a bacterium called Escherichia coli which is a powerful model for studying the DNA copying process, the study of which has revealed many aspects of DNA metabolism in more complex organisms such as man.

Professor McGlynn, who was one of 16 Chairs established at York to mark the University’s 50th Anniversary, says: “Our work demonstrates that when organisms try to copy their genetic material, the copying machines stall very frequently which is the first step in formation of mutations that, in man, can cause cancers and genetic disease.

“We have analysed what causes most of these breakdowns and how, under normal circumstances, cells repair these broken copying machines. Just as importantly, our work reveals that efficient repair of these breakdowns is very important to avoid corruption of the genetic code.”

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Notes to editors:

  • The paper ‘Protein-DNA complexes are the primary sources of replication fork pausing in Escherichia coli’ is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/04/10/1303890110.abstract?sid=bac4ad55-d8a9-428c-8a5e-3e2de329267b
  • For more information about the Department of Biology at the University of York, please visit: www.york.ac.uk/biology/
  • For more information about the University of York’s 50th Anniversary, please visit www.york.ac.uk/50/
  • BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Its aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £500M (2012-13), it supports research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people it funds are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Its investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. For more information about BBSRC visit www.bbsrc.ac.uk

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