When a cell’s chromosomes lose their ends, the cell usually kills itself to stem the genetic damage – University of Utah biologists say their discovery about how those cells evade suicide and start down the path to cancer may lead to new treatments.
A new study of fruit flies is the first to show in animals that losing just one telomere, the end of a chromosome, can lead to many abnormalities in a cell’s chromosomes, which are strands of DNA that carry genes.
“The essential point is that loss of a single telomere may be a primary event that puts a cell on the road to cancer,” says Kent Golic, a professor of biology at the University of Utah and senior author of the study, published in the journal Genetics.
Fruit flies have four pairs of chromosomes. Humans have 23 pairs. Each chromosome has two ends, called telomeres, which often are compared with the plastic tips of shoe laces. When those tips are lost or break, the shoelace frays. Previous research has shown that aging and cancer often are associated with loss or shortening of telomeres.