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Smoking Gene Mutations

November 4, 2016

Researchers discover that the DNA mutations by which smoking causes cancer are more complicated than previously thought.



Smoking, DNA, and cancer. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The link between smoking and cancer was established more than 60 years ago, but surprisingly little was known about the molecular mechanisms at the cellular level until now. So Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Ludmil Alexandrov and his colleagues compared cancer mutations in smokers and non-smokers. They expected to identify a single mechanism common to smokers’ cancers, but instead found a more complex pattern.

LUDMIL ALEXANDROV (Los Alamos National Laboratory):

We had at least four or five different ways by which tobacco smoking generates mutations in different tissue types.


They report in Science magazine that of these, a type of mutation caused by benzopyrene from tobacco smoke was almost exclusively found in tissues directly exposed to inhaled smoke, like the throat. But the source of another type of mutation – common to all smoking-related cancers – remains mysterious. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard