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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 November, 2003, 10:44 GMT
Volcanic cancer clue research
Organisms which repair DNA will be researched
A Scottish scientist is hoping to discover more about how cancer is formed by studying an organism most commonly found in volcanic pools and polar ice.

Dr Malcolm White, of St Andrews University, said that the efficiency of the organism's DNA repair systems could give insights into the human disease.

He has been studying organisms called archaea, which are often found in extreme environments.

Because they exist in very difficult environments they have extremely efficient methods of repairing their DNA.

Avoid mutation

Dr White said: "All organisms use DNA as their genetic material, and it is damage to DNA which give rise to mutations which can cause cancer.

"Because damage is very common all cells use DNA repair mechanisms to reverse the damage and avoid mutation."

Earlier this year, Dr White discovered that archaea, despite only having 3,000 genes to humans' 30,000 genes, were similar to humans.

"The surprise for us was that the fundamentals of the repair pathways in the organisms are the same as for humans," Dr White said.

By studying a very simple version of this repair process Dr White and his team hope to get a better understanding of its components and how they fit together.

Dr White is one 42 scientists chosen by the Association for International Cancer Research to help to find a cure for cancer.

He has been awarded 60,000 for the three-year study.

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