San Francisco, CA (PRBuzz.com) December 28, 2012 -- New studies suggest that there is strong evidence that tobacco use can modify and affect genes known to increase the risk of developing cancer.
DNA is not density, and chemical compounds that affect the functioning of genes can bind into genetic material. In other words, it can turn particular genes on or off.
These so-called epigenetic modifications have the potential to influence a variety of genetic traits, including obesity and sexual preference. Scientists have noted that epigenetic patterns of genes in people who choose to smoke. None of the modified patterns thus far found have any direct links to cancer, which makes it unclear if the alterations directly affect one's capability of developing cancer or other diseases.
The new study was published in the Human Molecular Genetics publication. Researchers analyze epigenetic signature cells from 374 individuals enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). The group is a massive study that is geared toward noting the link of diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors that incidence of cancer, as well as other common chronic diseases.
Within the group, half are people who went on to develop colon or breast cancer within five to seven years after joining the study. The other half remained healthy.
James Flanagan led the study. Flanagan is a human geneticist at Imperial College London, and discovered a distinct "epigenetic footprint" in subjects that chose to smoke. Such individuals had fewer chemical tags noted as methyl groups on 20 separate regions of DNA.
The study is the first to establish a possible link between epigenetic modification on cancer gene and risk of developing disease, according to Robert Philibert, who is an expert in behavioral geneticist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "To the best of my knowledge, no previous genome-wide epigenetics study has taken such efforts from initial discovery to replication to experimental validation," adds Lutz Breitling, an epidemiologist at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany.
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