Researchers say that a common weed related to cabbage, radish and mustard plant family may provide vital clues on human aging and cancer.
The research team from Texas A and M University and the University of Cincinnati (UC) examined the telomeres of Arabidopsis, a plant found throughout the world, and discovered a new set of essential telomere proteins.
They later identified the human counterpart, a discovery that could be beneficial in understanding human cancers and cellular aging. Telomeres are located at each end of a chromosome and are composed of DNA and protein.
Their main function is to protect the ends of the chromosome, but they also play a key role in cell division. The researchers also believe telomeres play a key role in cellular lifespan.
"We found that removal of the plant telomere proteins caused rampant end-to-end joining of chromosomes and dramatic defects in plant development," said Dorothy Shippen, professor of biophysics and biochemistry at Texas A and M.
"The Cincinnati team then showed that removal of one of the human proteins from human cancer cells caused wide-spread DNA damage and complete loss of some telomeres," Shippen added.
According to co-researcher Carolyn Price professor of cancer and cell biology at the UC College of Medicine, telomeres act as a protective cap for chromosomes and these caps are needed to stop chromosome fusions.
The problems in telomere maintenance lead to diseases such as cancer, premature aging syndromes, aplastic anemia and pulmonary fibrosis.
"The discovery of a new protein complex that is required to maintain the protective telomere cap is very exciting and should open up new research avenues related to human disease," Price added.
The study is published in the current issue of the journal Molecular Cell.