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Originally reported by TAMUtimes:
July 10, 2012
The common barnyard chicken could provide some very un-common
clues for fighting off diseases and might even offer new ways to
attack cancer, according to a team of international researchers
that includes a Texas A&M University professor.
Womack, Distinguished Professor of Veterinary
Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences, is co-author of a paper detailing the team's work that
appears in the current issue of
PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of
Scientists). Womack was a leader in the international effort
to sequence the cattle genome in 2004.
Womack and the team, comprised mostly of scientists from the
Seoul National University in Korea, examined 62 White Leghorn and
53 Cornish chickens for diversity in NK-lysin, an antibacterial
substance that occurs naturally in animals and is used as a method
of fighting off diseases.
They were able to obtain two genetic variations of NK-lysin and
the results offered two unexpected shockers: both showed
abilities to fight off bacterial infections and other diseases,
while one showed it could successfully fight cancer cells as
"It took all of us by surprise," Womack says of the
"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,"
"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
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