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Michigan State University lab makes big DNA discovery

Posted at 7:19 PM, Mar 07, 2023

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Recently, a lab at Michigan State University's School of Veterinary Medicine made a big discovery in a field of research they do with DNA.

Kathy Meek, a professor within the Veterinary Medicine building, hosts labs that deal specifically with DNA dependent protein kinase, or DNA-PK.

"This big complex is the protein complex that recognizes in your genes, when the DNA is actually cut apart on both strands," Meek said. "So remember, DNA is double stranded, and if you have a break on one strand, then the other strand holds it together, so the cell can fix the break on one strand. So if you get a cut on both strands, ends can fly apart. And when they fly apart, they sometimes can get rejoined in the wrong part of the genome. This is what happens in a majority of cancer cells."

During the COVID-19 era, Meek says that she collaborated with two teams to work on the issue.

"Surprisingly, what these two groups that we collaborated with showed is that when DNA-PK finds the two ends and puts them together, it makes two really different looking complexes. Different because there were different numbers of proteins there. And the orientation of DNA-PK with the DNA ends was really different," she said.

So how does this discovery effect the future? Meek brought up CRISPR, a gene editing strategy that cuts DNA to let natural DNA take over.

"And so it turns out, DNA-PK is the enzyme that starts the process that fixes the DNA ends after CRISPR. And so if we wanted a particular outcome from doing a gene editing experiment, whether it be in a person, plant, insects and stuff, now you can, you might be able to bias the outcome by promoting the formation of one complex versus the other complex."

I asked Meek how all of this new information made her feel when it was discovered.

"When you do something in the lab, and you see the result, you're the only person in the world that knows that," she said. "That is so, so cool to do something. And it's like, holy cow, I'm the only one who knows in the whole world how this works."

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