DNA defines us. Our genetic code is each person’s unique biological assembly manual. So the thought of an outside agent interfering with it is alarming, and that’s just what happens when certain viruses take hold. They inject small snippets of their own genetic information into our cells’ sequences and cause chaos. With these rogue instructions in the host DNA, cells begin to replicate uncontrollably: great for a virus trying to spread, but catastrophic for us, as this unhindered proliferation is the hallmark of cancer. The discovery of this mechanism, made by Renato Dulbecco – born on this day in 1914 – changed not just our understanding of virus-caused cancer, but of how genetic changes spark many other forms of cancer too. What’s more, the discoveries, which won Dulbecco a share of a 1975 Nobel Prize, were vital to early understanding of HIV and the first treatments for AIDS in the 1980s.
Written by Anthony Lewis
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.