Linda, in the midst of chemo, entertains a
Heron Island, Maine, 2009
A tip from Google Alerts to an article by one Maggie Fox published by NBC News has lured me into a downward spiral into the black depths of bio-genetics. To get the reference out of the way:
So, anyway, some people at the National Human Genome Research Institute, a part of NIH, have been looking for genetic markers that would reliably predict the presence of cancer in the absence of symptoms – and they may have found one. They performed what I believe is called a GWSA – a Genome Wide Association Study – and found something exciting. Specifically, they saw that tumors in the colon, breast and stomach, as well as in endometrial cancer all showed abnormal methylation near a particular gene, ZNF154. Fifteen discrete types of cancer were involved. Why this unusual methylation pattern exists is not yet clear, but present results strongly suggest that this observed association will be valuable for early detection. They are testing it on ovarian cancer at the present time.
Okay, that’s all you really need to know. However, it you want to follow my doomed spiral into biochemical oblivion, read on.
First, methylation. A methyl group is a molecule consisting of three hydrogen atoms bonded to a central carbon: CH3 in chem-speak. Methylation itself is the attachment of a methyl group to a specific spot on the DNA molecule, in order to “regulate” something – usually, shut off (inactivate) a gene. Methylation is an important epigenetic process. Read all about it here:
Now, how about gene ZNF154? Well, ZNF is short for zinc finger. Apparently there is what any sane observer would regard as a ridiculous number of ZNF genes. Each codes for a protein that is characterized by finger-like protrusions containing a zinc atom. These ZNF proteins perform a variety of functions: ZNF154 is described as a “transcription factor”, which I take to imply that it has something to do with “transcribing” the information on DNA onto a messenger RNA molecule. In the literature I read the downward spiral continued, but I was already thoroughly drowned. I wish I had studied biochemistry.
As an aside, heretofore “zinc finger” molecules seem to have been used to “edit” DNA, but this has been superseded by the CRISPR technique, with which you are certainly familiar.
Also, the bottom of this article shifts direction and gives you some details about current Moonshot planning. I worry that it will merely involve more money. Cancer cannot be drowned in money. Joe Biden: for God’s sake, read my blogs!