What controls cell death? Meet p53, the Guardian of the Genome

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Cancer can arise from infection of a virus or when there is a change in the DNA code in a region that controls the cell cycle. In the cell cycle, there are proteins (coded for by the DNA) which regulate how often the cell undergoes a division, and also sets up checkpoints to fix cell damage if detected. One of these proteins related to the cell cycle is p53, discovered by Professor Sir David Lane and Lionel Crawford in 1979. The gene that encodes p53 was later discovered in 1989 and is now considered the “guardian of the genome”, as a tumour suppressor.

The process of Lane and Crawford’s discovery began when they were investigating simian virus 40 (SV40), a virus which causes cancer in mice. They noticed a viral protein they analysed was heavier than expected and with further experiments discovered that there was another protein attached. The…

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