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If you think cancer genes are simple, you don't know JAK
Date:9/17/2007

Cancer-causing genes can work in more powerful and sneaky ways than have been realized. Scientists have shown that a gene named JAK that is closely related to a common cancer-causing gene in people tips the scales toward cancer in an unexpected manner. JAK disrupts the activity of an organisms DNA on a broad scale, thwarting a critical molecular event very early on in an embryos development.

A team from the University of Rochester Medical Center made the finding, published in the Sept. 7 issue of Public Library of Science (PLoS) Genetics, through research involving fruit flies, which share much of the same complex cellular signaling as humans. Sorting out the major molecular processes in fruit flies or other comparatively simple organisms first has often allowed scientists studying diseases like cancer to speed the development of new treatments by years or even decades.

By manipulating the DNA of fruit flies and analyzing their body types as they develop as maggots the team made a surprising finding: The cancer-promoting effects of a mutation to the DNA sequence of a gene that normally suppresses cancer can be passed from parents to offspring, even if the mutation itself is not passed to the offspring. Under some circumstances, having one parent with the mutation is enough to ultimately affect the offspring, even when the mutation itself is not passed to the next generation.

The work offers a stark illustration of a reality that scientists are coming to fully respect only recently: Even though the DNA code has been traditionally considered the only way to pass genetic information through the generations, there are other, more subtle genetic legacies, types of a molecular memory that can go from generation to generation as well.

The team made the finding with a cancer-causing gene, or oncogene, known as an activated JAK kinase. A biochemical system extremely similar to JAK is vital for peoples health, but when its signals
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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