Genes & Cells

A sticky E. coli outbreak, clues to pancreatic cancer and a double whammy that leads to cancer in this week's news

Sticky case of E. coli in Germany
A combination of stickiness and a potent toxin may be what has made a large outbreak in Germany of Escherichia coli bacteria so nasty. The strain, E. coli O104:H4 combines genetic characteristics of two different types of disease-causing bacteria, German researchers report online June 23 in Lancet Infectious Diseases. The strain, which has killed at least 48 people and sickened more than 4,000 others to date, glues itself to cells in a pattern akin to stacking bricks. This stickiness may help a toxin produced by the bacteria enter cells and make people sicker than other strains do. —Tina Hesman Saey

Pancreatic cancer cells go long
Pancreatic cancer cells may thrive thanks to two mutations that keep the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes long. In most cells, the chromosome ends, called telomeres, shorten with age. But pancreatic cancer cells that carry mutations in either the ATRX or the DAXX gene have long telomeres, researchers from Johns Hopkins University Medical School report online June 30 in Science. The longer telomeres help keep the cancer cells vigorous and growing. Mutations in ATRX were also found in a small number of brain tumors, and the brain cancer cells had the longer chromosomes. —Tina Hesman Saey

Cancer, step by step
An international team of researchers has dissected the genetic blueprints of skin cancer and ovarian tumors and reports that losing both copies of a crucial protein heralds trouble ahead. The cancer-fighting protein p53 is often lost in many different types of cancer, but researchers thought that was one of the last things a cancer cell did before it turned really nasty. The new study, in the July Cancer Discovery, finds that p53 loss is an early troublemaker. Years of sun exposure plus losing one copy of p53 leads to about 100 mutations in skin cells. After the second copy of p53 was knocked out, cells piled on about 1,300 mutations. —Tina Hesman Saey

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