Scientists use jellyfish DNA to detect cancer
August 6, 1999
MANCHESTER, England (CNN) -- Breakthroughs in DNA testing have provided key evidence in high-profile criminal cases, but they also have advanced public health, helping scientists find clues to cancer risks.
Combining the DNA that gives a jellyfish its eerie glow with ordinary yeast, like the kind used in bread or beer, scientists at the University of Manchester in England have created a new tool that zeroes in on substances that cause cancer.
The device eventually will be capable of testing a sample of anything from river water to potential new drugs, lighting up when it detects chemicals that could damage human DNA.
"DNA damage is a precursor of cancer, so if you have enough DNA damage that isn't repaired, then eventually at some point in the future ... you are very likely to develop cancer," said University of Manchester researcher Nick Goddard.
Those substances that cause cancer in humans also are dangerous to yeast. Yeast, like other organisms, has built-in proteins that repair its DNA when it comes under attack.
When scientists see those repair proteins, it's a sign the yeast DNA is on the defensive, meaning a potentially cancer-causing chemical is present.
Seeing the repair proteins is where the jellyfish come in. Researchers use genetic engineering to combine the jellyfish glow with the yeast.
"So cells that are experiencing DNA damage and contain our genetic modification now make this jellyfish protein and this protein fluoresces green when you shine blue light on it," said Manchester researcher Gordon Baker.
The glow can be measured by sensors and analyzed by computer, so eventually the
"There is a very large number of compounds out there that we simply don't know whether they cause cancer or not," Goddard says. "And our test is aimed at cutting the cost and increasing the speed of testing for those chemicals so that we have a better idea of whether or not they're going to cause a problem when people are exposed to them."
One day, the researchers hope the device is portable enough to take out into the field and test water for contamination.
Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.
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