You can be forgiven for not remembering what happened when you were an embryo, because things went really, really quickly. DNA-wise, you’re still largely the same person. The genes that are responsible for embryonic development in the first few days of life just get switched off after they’ve done their job. Researchers don’t know where that switch is, or how it functions, but they have found another reason to keep looking for it. When the switch malfunctions, reactivating embryonic development genes later in life, tumors can be the result.
Embryonic cells are basically the same as our own cells. They have the same DNA and genes, for example. As we move from embryo to person, though, we no longer need a lot of those genes, so they get shut off. Since genes are an inextricably linked to part of our DNA, they’re still very much there, like that box of 2nd Edition AD&D gear in your attic that you never use, but can’t throw out. These genes are DNA’s answer to the Ranger’s Handbook. They’ll never be needed again, but they were such an integral part of your development that you can’t go on without them either. You wouldn’t be you.
Mostly, these genes are harmless. They did their jobs while you were an embryo and are content to coast as you enjoy being an actual person. While the worst consequence of cracking open that Realms of Terror box for old time’s sake may be an awkward conversation with a significant other, reactivating those embryonic genes could be much worse news. Like, cancer worse.
When these obsolete genes spring back into action, the results can be disastrous. These genes’ job during embryonic development is to tell cells to make many copies of themselves. If you’re an embryo, that’s great. If you’re an adult, though, it’s a tumor. Today’s research, published in the journal Cell Reports, gives researchers some new clues into how many cancers might begin, and puts them on the road to finding out how to stop them early. That means that for researchers on the study, job one is finding the switch that stops development in embryos, as it’s our best clue to finding what reactivates the process in adults.
(via Medical Xpress)
- This is weirdly similar to things being seen in induced stem cells, as well
- Cellular fountains of youth may end up nothing but trouble
- As they often look pretty tightly linked with cancer