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A Research University in Action: DNA Glycosylases

By Loret Haas-Hanser

Artwork by Alexandra Schaening

The University of Vermont is a renowned research university. From psychological research, vaccine testing, biological cancer research, to breakthroughs in agriculture UVM has faculty and students dedicated to the research process. There are infinite opportunities for education and advancement in research thanks to advancements in technology. In a recently published paper and continuously rolling research, a Microbiology and Molecular Genetics lab at UVM discovered exciting findings that play an integral role in modern cancer research.

The double-stranded figure we all know and love is a beautiful thing. DNA is a component of the human genome that exists to hold the genetic information necessary to create and maintain organisms during every second of every day. DNA is made up of bases that ideally, all pair up accordingly. Unfortunately, DNA bases experience damage that can change the overall makeup and chemical structure of DNA itself. Damaged DNA then can result in mutations and uncontrolled cell growth and division, ultimately leading to cancer and other cellular abnormalities. On a happier note, there are ways in which the body can repair DNA damage. The base-excision repair pathway (BER) is a mechanism that can repair damage in DNA, which is what is being studied in Dr. Pederson’s lab.

In order for the BER to work properly, like any mechanism in the body, enzymes are necessary in order to facilitate repair. In this case, glycosylase enzymes catalyze the initial steps in DNA repair. Dr. Pederson and colleagues hypothesized that human cells naturally contain a factor that helps initialize glycosylase-mediated repair processes from specific sites in nucleosomes. In order to test and examine the capacity of cells to modulate glycosylase behavior, and in doing so, organically support DNA repair, extracts from human cells were used to excise lesions in nucleosomes. The DNA glycosylase being studied successfully excised the lesions. Interestingly, the glycosylase-stimulating activity, although positive, has a low molecular weight in comparison to other counterparts. The results from this assay indicate that cells possess properties that help promote DNA repair in nucleosomes, but is different in weight an other possible variables than other glycosylases.

Choosing one piece of research to focus on is a near impossible task. Being a research university means supporting learning, understanding, and the constant cyclical nature of science. Without research, many disciplines would be stagnant. With the ability to constantly hypothesize, experiment, observe and learn, scientific communities have the amazing potential to constantly mature. Any medication, treatment, machine, etc, are all made possible because of research. To believe in research is to believe in science, which all things considered, certainly help explain a lot about what it means to be human.

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