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2008 National DNA Day Online Chatroom Transcript

This is just one question from an archive of the National DNA Day Moderated Chat held in April 2008. The NHGRI Director and many genomics experts from across NHGRI took questions from students, teachers and the general public on topics ranging from basic genomic research, to the genetic basis of disease, to ethical questions about genetic privacy.

How do biologists know the sun's UV light casues cancer?
     David Adams, M.D., Ph.D.: Studying rare inborn errors of metabolism and other rare genetic syndromes to understand the disease process and identify potential treatments. Firstly, cancer is caused by damage to DNA. The DNA causes the cells to lose control of their growth and/or identity. That being the case, you would expect that things that damage DNA would cause cancer. One experiment that shows how UV radiation damages DNA is as follows. If you coat the DNA with fluorescent (glowing) molecules, you can actually see them under the microscope. If you shine strong enough UV light on the DNA you can watch it break in front of your eyes! More evidence is provided by the fact that skin cancers associated with UV skin damage occur most often in places not covered by the sun. Finally, there are some diseases caused by dysfunction of the cellular machinery that repairs DNA damage. Individuals with those conditions will often have dramatically increased rates of skin cancer in sun exposed areas of the body. Wear sunscreen!!
Shikellamy High School in PA (9th grade student)

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