DNA Day experts answer your questions about repairing DNA

29 April 2014

Above: Image © Mexicali, iStockphoto.com

We learned that Your DNA can be altered by stress and environmental factors. Does your body adapt to the changes or does it attempt to correct the altered DNA?

There is an entire field dedicated to studying how the genome is modified over the life of an animal and how those alterations are passed on, it's called epigenetics. To be clear, we are not talking about mutation to or breakage of the DNA strand such as caused by UV light, etc. The body tries to keep those in check with various processes for sure. When those mechanisms fail, cancer can develop. Epigenetic changes on the other hand are environmentally mediated changed to the DNA and accessory molecules (most famously methylation) that make a gene more or less likely to be turned into protein, without changing the gene's information content.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

How is DNA repaired?

Cells have evolved sophisticated DNA repair systems or enzymes to recognized breaks in the DNA, mismatch in DNA nucleotides (remove and replace bases) that occur due to environmental impacts or normal DNA replication. There are stop points where enzymes assess the damage. If it is too damaged a signal will tell the cell to activate enzymes and proteins that will lead it to apoptosis or programmed cell death.

- Answer provided by Dr. David Charest

Are the DNA repair enzymes used in genetic engineering?

I am not sure specifically if there are DNA repair enzymes are used in genetic engineering. However there is a powerful new tool called CRISPR. It may be one of the most powerful technologies available for genetic engineering and is being used widely in fruit flies, yeast and mice. It confers resistance (immunity) to foreign genetic elements such as plasmids and phages (viruses that attack and kill bacteria). This is a real world example to the question above on the parasitic plant Rafflesia cantleyi and its possible use in genetic engineering.

- Answer provided by Dr. David Charest


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