CANCER leaves 'fingerprints' on DNA that that could help scientist nail the environmental culprits behind mysterious tumours.
Doctors are building a state-of-the-art genetic library of 'mutation' markers – with tobacco smoke, sunlight, and air pollution identified as triggers with telltale signs.
Alamy2 Chemicals trigger specific changes in the DNA's structure
Cambridge University2 Each type of cancer has a distinct 'fingerprint'
Each chemical triggers a specific change in the DNA's structure.
Scientists at Cambridge University and King's College London exposed stem cells to dozens of known carcinogens before recording how each one altered DNA code.
They hope the results could turn tumours into "black boxes" packed with information about what caused the disease.
Research leader Dr Serena Nik-Zainal said: "Mutational signatures are the fingerprints that carcinogens leave behind on our DNA, and just like fingerprints, each one is unique.
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"They allow us to treat tumours as a crime scene and, like forensic scientists, allow us to identify the culprit, and their accomplices, responsible for the tumour."
Among the 41 identified "fingerprints" were chemotherapy drugs, dietary chemicals, and diesel.
Dr Nik-Zainal added: "Our reference library will allow doctors in future to identify those culprits responsible for causing cancer.
"Such information could be invaluable in helping inform measures to reduce people's exposure to potentially dangerous carcinogens."