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Marks Left on the Genome

With the Mutographs of Cancer project, researchers hope to tease out the mutational signatures that carcinogens leave behind on the genome, writes Kat Arney at Mosaic.

For instance, benzo(a)pyrene, found in tobacco smoke, binds guanines, while UV light leads neighboring cytosines to dimerize, she says. With a catalog of what chemicals lead to which changes, researchers might be better poised to determine which environmental exposures contribute to cancer risk to then help people mitigate their exposure. In Africa, the project is collecting not only tumor and normal blood samples from patients, but is also combining that with data from a case-control study being conducted by the Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma African Prevention Research projec, which is itself collecting lifestyle and environmental data, she says.

This, Arney adds could also help explain why there are hotspots of certain cancers — esophageal cancer, for instance, is more common in certain regions of Africa, particularly in Kenya and Malawi.

"We've got anecdotal information that it runs in families in our study site, but is it genetics or is it a shared environment? I'm hoping the Mutographs study can answer that question." Diana Menya, an epidemiologist at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya, tells Mosaic. (Mosaic is funded by Wellcome, but is editorially independent.)