Pseudogenes, or stretches of DNA that have similar sequences to functional genes that make proteins but are not functional themselves, have been shown to have an effect in certain cancers and may be used to treat certain cancers.

Originally designated as "junk DNA" and not focused on during the Human Genome Project to decode all human genes, these evolutionarily inactive duplicate genes are showing their importance in the control and development of cancer.

A recent publication in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology looked at a pseudogene of PTEN, a gene that makes a protein that suppresses cancer development.

The pseudogene of this real gene has a similar stretch of DNA sequences but does not make a protein, and is therefore considered "non-functional." The vast majority of the DNA sequences in our genome are not genes and do not produce proteins.

But this new report indicates that pseudogenes may control functional genes in many ways.

There were two ways that researchers saw that pseudogenes could affect the production of real genes that can prevent cancer.

Initiation factors that start the process of producing the protein for the tumor suppressing gene PTEN can be redirected to interact with parts of the fake gene instead. The pseudogene can act as a sponge for these factors and prevent the processes that allows the real gene to be produced.

Another way that these mock genes were shown to block the expression of the real genes is by using a process that the body uses to eliminate virus genetic material.

This "silencing" process that blocks the expression of the gene is currently being looked at by drug companies as a possible treatment option. Their idea is that if you can "block the blocker," the cancer fighting proteins will be produced and stop cancer in its tracks.

The report is published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology and can be read here.

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