Chicken Genes May Yield Cancer-Fighting Substance

By Chelsea Whyte on July 12, 2012 1:04 AM EDT

chicken
Barnyard chickens may not seem extraordinary, but variants in their genes could help fight off cancer cells. (Photo: Creative Commons: kusabi)

Ordinary barnyard chickens have provided researchers with clues for fighting off diseases, including new ways to attack cancer.

James Womack of Texas A&M University, along with a 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 found two genetic variants of NK-lysin which both showed the ability to fight off bacterial infections and other diseases. But surprisingly, one of them was also successful in fighting cancer cells.

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"It took all of us by surprise," Womack says of the findings, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "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."

The team sequenced the DNA of the Leghorn chickens (those with darker feathers) and Cornish chickens (those with white coats), which were chosen because they're found all over the world and have relatively diverse genetic origins.

"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 said, according to Latinos Post.

The researchers will look further into similar genetic variants in other animals to see if these disease-fighting genes exist elsewhere.

"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," said Womack, according to Futurity.org.

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