Cellular Respiration Can Lead to Cancer, Study Shows

Okay, perhaps that title is a bit misleading. But this article reports a recent study that gives scientists a better understanding of what causes a certain type of genetic mutation that can lead to cancer. And these mutations in the DNA can result from cellular respiration, among many other processes.

We haven’t quite gotten to how DNA works in class, but we did cover it back in regular biology. DNA involves the pairing of adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine to construct the double helix that contains the genetic information for our cells. Also, DNA replicates in the process of cell division. Unusual alterations in these sequences can cause genetic disorders and cancer. The article more specifically explains what can happen to cause this genetic mutation.

Many of our bodies’ processes involve reactive oxygen species, which are simply reactive molecules that contain oxygen. Certain species are known to cause the mutation of guanine into 8-oxo-guanine or FaPy-guanine. The study from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich describes the effects of FaPy-G in DNA.

Usually, the guanine bases will pair up with a piece of cytosine. However, when exposed to certain types of reactive oxygen species, the guanine will turn into FaPy-G. FaPy-G does not pair up with cytosine like it should; instead, it matches up with adenine during the course of DNA replication, creating FaPy-G:A base pairs. The cell then completes the process with this unusual base pair.

DNA Repair
DNA Repair Enzymes
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Afterwards, the cell realizes that there is something wrong with that guanine base. DNA repair enzymes go in and remove the FaPy-G molecule from the string of DNA. However, the FaPy-G does not get replaced by a regular guanine. The adenine that gets left will match up with a thymine, creating an A:T pair where there should have been a C:G pair. This change in DNA is potentially dangerous as it can develop into tumors.

The issue here actually lies with the cell’s damage control systems. Scientists have found that these systems struggle with detecting a difference between regular guanine and FaPy-guanine during the process of DNA replication. It seems as if only after the FaPy-G has affected the DNA sequence is it finally detected and removed.

Unfortunately, we can’t just stop cellular respiration, nor can we just get rid of the reactive oxygen species in our bodies. The effects of FaPy-G are inherent risks that are present because of a flaw in the way our cells are made. So, we turn to science for a solution to this problem. Some scientists are looking into the damage control systems of cells to try to better understand why they often fail to detect issues in DNA.

Cancer is a big problem when it comes to biology and medicine. Many people are drawn to these fields of study to try and find a cure. There are still many concepts out there that scientists do not currently fully understand. The world of science can always use more research, especially when it comes to cells and cancer. Researchers like those at LMU study very complicated ideas. However, their research seems to stem from topics like cellular respiration and DNA, the types of topics that are covered in a high school biology classroom.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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