Cancer risk linked to DNA ‘wormholes’

From KurzweilAI:

DnaSingle-letter genetic variations within parts of the genome once dismissed as “junk DNA” can increase cancer risk through remote effects on far-off genes, new research by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London shows.The researchers found that DNA sequences within “gene deserts” — so called because they are completely devoid of genes — can regulate gene activity elsewhere by forming DNA loops across relatively large distances. The study helps solve a mystery about how genetic variations in parts of the genome that don’t appear to be doing very much can increase cancer risk. Their study, published in Nature Communications, also has implications for the study of other complex genetic diseases.

The researchers developed a technique called Capture Hi-C to investigate long-range physical interactions between stretches of DNA – allowing them to look at how specific areas of chromosomes interact physically in more detail. The researchers assessed 14 regions of DNA that contain single-letter variations previously linked to bowel cancer risk. They detected significant long-range interactions for all 14 regions, confirming their role in gene regulation. “Our new technique shows that genetic variations are able to increase cancer risk through long-range looping interactions with cancer-causing genes elsewhere in the genome,” study leader Professor Richard Houlston, Professor of Molecular and Population Genetics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London said. “It is sometimes described as analogous to a wormhole, where distortions in space and time could in theory bring together distant parts of the universe.”

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