Human 'Quadruple Helix' DNA

Cambridge University scientists writing in the Journal Nature say they have seen four-stranded DNA at work in human cells for the first time.

(A representation of the four-stranded structure (L) with fluorescent markers)

They suggest that control of the structures could provide novel ways to fight the disease.

"The existence of these structures may be loaded when the cell has a certain genotype or a certain dysfunctional state," said Prof Shankar Balasubramanian from Cambridge's department of chemistry.

"We need to prove that; but if that is the case, targeting them with synthetic molecules could be an interesting way of selectively targeting those cells that have this dysfunction," he told BBC News.

Although I think that there were references by scientists to the idea of four-stranded DNA by the early 1970's, science fiction writers didn't hesitate to introduce the idea to sf readers. This excerpt is from the original Hitchhiker's Radio Scripts written by Douglas Adams broadcast in 1978.

"The Haggunenons of Vicissitus Three have the most impatient chromosomes of any life form in the Galaxy. ... Their genetic structure, based on the quadruple sterated octohelix, is so chronically unstable, that far from passing their basic shape onto their children, they will quiet frequently evolve several times over lunch."

Via BBC; thanks to Eric Nodacker for the tip and the reference for this article.

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