FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., April 10 (UPI) -- A Northern Arizona University biochemist and her students report that uranium can damage DNA as a heavy metal independent of its radioactive properties.
Their research has enormous implications for the study of depleted uranium as a component in military munitions.
Phys.org news agency reported on April 7 that Stearns and her students are the first researchers to discover that when cells are exposed to uranium, the uranium binds to DNA and the cells can mutate, the uranium altering the cell's DNA code. The end result can be that the affected DNA can produce a different protein or wrong amounts of protein, affecting cell growth, some of which can metastasize into cancer cells.
While scientists have long known that uranium can damage DNA as a radioactive metal, Stearns and her collaborators discovered that uranium could also damage DNA as a heavy metal, independent of its radioactive properties.
Sterns said, "Essentially, if you get a heavy metal stuck on DNA, you can get a mutation."
While scientists have discovered that other heavy metals are known to bind to DNA, Stearns and her collaborators are the first to link this trait to uranium.
The results of the team's research were published recently in Mutagenesis and Molecular Carcinogenesis journals.