Researchers have discovered variations in the gene responsible for NK-lysin production in chickens that could benefit cancer treatments.
An article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports on the effects of a slight change in the chicken NK-lysin gene.
NK-lysin is a substance that chickens produce that works as anti-microbial agent. The variations of this gene, caused by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), create slightly different versions of NK-lysin to be expressed, and one of these genetic variations has been found to bee highly anti-microbial and had properties that could aid cancer treatments.
The research was carried out at the Seoul National University in South Korea and examined 62 White Leghorn and 53 Cornish chickens for NK-lysin diversity.
James Womack, one of the co-authors of the paper based at Texas A&M, commenting on the paper, said:
"One of the genetic variations shows it has the ability to fight against cancer cells much more aggressively than the other variation. We certainly were not looking at the cancer side of this, but there it was."
Womack says the team selected the two breeds because Cornish and White Leghorn chickens, found throughout most of the world, have relatively diverse genetic origins.
After conducting a DNA sequence of the chickens, the team found two variations of the genes that offered clues as to their protective ability to ward off infections.
"One form appears to be more potent in killing off cancer cells than the other, and that's the one that naturally caught our eye," Womack adds.
"This could lead to other steps to fight cancer or in developing ways to prevent certain infections or even diseases. It's another door that has been opened up. We are looking at similar studies right now to see if this is possible with cattle.
"The next step is to work with other animals and see if similar variants exist. We need to look for any genetic similarities to the chicken variants and then determine if these variants affect the health of the animal, but this is an exciting first step in this direction."
Sources: PNAS, Texas A&M