Dr Adele Williamson from The University of Waikato explains how DNA repair processes within cells are vital to multicellular organisms like ourselves. When damage occurs to DNA that is not repairable or mutations of the genetic material have impacts on biological processes, they can be fatal to the cell or it could cause diseases such as cancer.
Learn about Adele's research with enzymes including those involved in DNA repair, and the scientific concepts that underpin this work:
Dr Adele Williamson
When I’m talking about repair, I’m typically talking about repair of DNA. And obviously this is really important because, DNA in an organism, it’s a blueprint for all of the instructions of how that cell is going to behave and how it’s going to be replicated. So if you damage that master copy, then you actually damage the integrity of the entire organism. DNA is the instructions for building all the proteins that make the cell work and it’s also the instructions that are going to be passed down to the next generation of cells. If that DNA is damaged, there is a couple of things that can happen. One thing is the DNA can be damaged in a way that it can no longer function at all. So you can’t produce proteins from it or you can’t replicate it, and that will be fatal for the cell – the cell will die if it can’t repair those kinds of damages. The other problem that can happen is that damage can lead to mutation. So in this case, the cell might still be able to function, but the protein it produces from that part of DNA could be incorrect or broken – or potentially even worse, especially if it’s a multicellular organism like us, those mutations can be passed down to the next generation of cells and could cause problems later on.
One example where you get DNA damage stopping the proper function of a gene that can be problematic if that damage is replicated is some of our oncogenes. So if damage – that means a defective copy of a gene that controls the rate of cell division – occurs, if you’ve changed that gene so that the protein produced from it can no longer work and can no longer say, “Stop cells, there’s too many of you, stop dividing – you’re going to cause a problem”, if that switch is broken because of a DNA mutation, because of a change in that gene, then the cells won’t respond to the signal that they need to stop dividing. And that’s when you get something like cancer where you have uncontrolled cellular proliferation.
Dr Adele Williamson, The University of Waikato