Cancer is a horrible disease that takes thousands of loved ones from their families every year, while millions of dollars are being pumped into cancer research, in hope to find a cure. An area of cancer research that does not get much publicity is epigenetics, which is the study of the heritable changes in DNA that do not affect the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetics plays a significant role in understanding the heritable functions of DNA and how cancer is formed. It is through exploring specific epigenetic changes scientists hope to further understand why these changes occur, and how they affect the DNA.
Basics of DNA:
In order to grasp and visualize how these epigenetic changes occur, a basic understanding of DNA must be achieved. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the genetic and hereditary material of almost all living organisms. It is made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C) (Hallick). These building blocks, which are sequenced together to make up all the information required for an organism to be built and to function (What is DNA?), think of bases like the letters of the alphabet in how they are specifically ordered to form words, sentences, and entire stories.
Once sequenced, the four bases couple up to form base pairs, with guanine pairing up with cytosine, and thymine with adenine. Each base is attached to a sugar molecule and phosphate molecule to create a nucleotide (Hallick). Nucleotides come together create the commonly seen double helix DNA structure, by being arranged in two long strands which when connected form a spiral (What is DNA?). The double helix structure looks similar to a ladder. The base pairs create the “rungs” of the ladder, and the sugar and phosphate molecules are the sides of the ladder. This structure is what holds all the genetic information pertaining to an organism.
DNA must replicate itself in order to pass on its genetic information to the next generation of cells. Individual nucleotide strands become patterns for duplicating (What is DNA?), with each new strand being an exact replica of the old strand. Unfortunately mistakes do happen, the wrong nucleotide is inserted, or there are too few or too many bases. These imperfections can often be corrected by repair enzymes (Pray), sometimes resulting in the deletion of the entire sequence. There are a few that make it through, and these imperfections turn into permanent mutations and are passed onto the follow cell generations (Pray). Mutations like these are the ones referred to in the X-men movies and comics, which in the storyline causes a variety of abilities in the mutated organism. However, this is not the case in real life. For many organisms, mutations like these can eventually lead to cancer or even death (Chial).
Types of Epigentic Modification:
Sequencing changes, or mutations, are not the only way modifications can be made to the DNA. As mention previously, epigenetics is the study of the heritable...