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DNA goes under the microscope

A team of University of St Andrews scientists has been awarded over half a million pounds to explain how DNA replication can lead to cancer.

The team, led by Dr James Naismith, has secured £600,000 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to conduct a four- year study into how DNA is copied and how it can be stopped before it leads to DNA mutations which can result in the killer disease.

The four-year study, which is the only one its kind being carried out in the UK, could have important implications for medicine, biology and biotechnology.

Dr Naismith, who is based in the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences said, “Cancer is really DNA replication gone wrong, with cancer occurring because of mutations in the genetic code. We need to copy our DNA all the time and biology goes to enormous lengths to get this right because mistakes can be disastrous. Understanding how DNA is copied will help us understand what goes wrong, how to stop it and how to modify it”.

DNA replication also takes place when a single virus infects the body and then makes many copies of itself, spreading throughout the body. The whole basis of this relies on the virus being able to replicate its DNA. Indeed, many antiviral compounds work by stopping virus replication, for example AZT for the HIV virus.

Dr Naismith said, “These complex processes involve many proteins and, although looking at each individual protein has undoubtedly proven useful, we now need to look at the entire machine. In much the same way as looking at pistons and valves tells us things about an engine, only seeing the whole thing will help us understand it”.

The project will also involve Professor Ron Hay and Dr Haunting Liu.

ENDS

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07887 650072 or email cg24@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: DNA/standrews/ PR1929

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