Two thin strands wound together in a spiraling helix: This is the iconic shape of a DNA molecule. But sometimes, DNA can form a rare quadruple-helix, and this odd structure may play a role in diseases like cancer.

Not much is known about these four-stranded DNA, known as G-quadruplexes — but now, scientists have developed a new way to detect these odd molecules and observe how they behave in living cells. In a new study, published Jan. 8 in the journal Nature Communications, the team described how certain proteins cause the G-quadruplex to unravel; in the future, their work could lead to new drugs that grab hold of quadruple-helix DNA and disrupt its activity. Drugs could intervene, for instance, when the odd DNA contributes to cancerous tumor growth.

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