Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

Can Elephants Help Fight Cancer?

Reporter: Gail S. Thornton, M.A.



This paragraph is excerpted from the American Technion Society Facebook page.

Professor Avi Schroeder and Dr. Josh Schiffman of the The University of Utah are working with elephants at Utah’s Hogle Zoo on a possible new tool to fight against lung, bone, breast, and other cancers. Dr. Schiffman found that p53, a cancer-suppressing protein, is far more prevalent in elephants, which rarely develop cancer. Prof. Schroeder is now working to manufacture the protein in nanoparticles to begin preclinical testing.

This article is excerpted from The Salt Lake Tribune, May 2, 2019.

Earth’s biggest, smallest, oddest life forms are getting new attention from scientists. A Utah author explores what they’re learning.

Published: May 2, 2019

Researchers have long ignored superlative life forms — the biggest, the tiniest, ones that can survive extremes — as outliers, Utah author Matthew D. LaPlante says.

But they’re now realizing the value of studying nature’s “oddballs,” he adds, which are helping scientists discover how to better fight disease and aging, understand the history of life on this planet and how we might reach others.

LaPlante’s new book, “Superlative: The Biology of Extremes” was released this week. On Friday at 7 p.m., the associate professor of journalistic writing at Utah State University will read from “Superlative” and talk about his work at The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City. The event is free and open to the public.

The co-writer of several books on the intersection of scientific discovery and society, LaPlante now is working with Harvard geneticist David Sinclair on a book about human longevity. “Superlative” from BenBella Books is the first solo book by LaPlante, a former reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune.

As he surveys unusual life around the earth, there are stops in Utah — from Pando, the aspen clone in Sevier County believed to be the single most massive living organism known on Earth, to pop-up appearances by researchers at the University of Utah and elephants at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.

Vast sequences of the genetic coding that humans share with elephants still perform similar functions in each species, LaPlante explains. And long after the two diverged, both developed the same genetic solution for the oxygen needs of a larger brain.

So there’s reason to believe that responses elephants have evolved — such as rarely developing cancer — might be spurred in humans.

The potential within a genome for such new traits to develop is at the heart of comparative genomics — and at the work of Utah pediatric oncologist Josh Schiffman.

This excerpt from “Superlative” explains how Schiffman began working with Hogle Zoo’s African elephants — the largest living land mammals — to fight cancer.

It all started in the summer of 2012, when [pediatric oncologist Josh] Schiffman’s beloved dog, Rhody, passed away [due] to histiocytosis, a condition that attacks the cells of skin and connective tissue. “It was the only time my wife has ever seen me cry,” he told me. “Rhody was like our first child.”

Schiffman had heard dogs like his had an elevated risk of cancer, but it wasn’t until after Rhody’s death that he learned just how elevated it was. Bernese mountain dogs who live to the age of ten have a 50 percent risk of dying from cancer.

“Suddenly it dawned on me there was this whole other world, this young field of comparative oncology,” he said, “and I was pulled into the idea of being a pioneer and maybe a leader to help move things along.”

Schiffman had long been intrigued by the fact that size doesn’t appear to correlate to cancer rates — a phenomenon known as “Peto’s Paradox,” named for Oxford University epidemiologist Richard Peto. But when Schiffman took his children on an outing to Utah’s Hogle Zoo — the same place I sometimes go to have lunch with my elephant friend, Zuri — everything came together.

A keeper named Eric Peterson had just finished giving a talk to a crowd of visitors, mentioning in passing that the zoo’s elephants have been trained to allow the veterinary staff to take small samples of blood from a vein behind their ears. As the crowd dispersed, an angular, excited man approached him.

“I’ve got a strange question,” Schiffman said.

“We’ve heard them all,” Peterson replied.

“OK then — how do I get me some of that elephant blood?” Schiffman asked.

Peterson contemplated calling security. Instead, after a bit of explanation from Schiffman, the zookeeper told the inquisitive doctor he’d look into it. Two and a half months later, the zoo’s institutional review board gave its blessing to Schiffman’s request.

Things moved fast after that.

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Lab specialists Lauren Donovan Cristhian Toruno, Lisa Abegglen and researcher Joshua Schiffman, from left, are testing the effects of elephant gene p53 (EP53) in human cancer cells at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Lab specialists Lauren Donovan Cristhian Toruno, Lisa Abegglen and researcher Joshua Schiffman, from left, are testing the effects of elephant gene p53 (EP53) in human cancer cells at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Cancer develops in part because cells divide. During each division the cells must make a copy of their DNA, and once in a while, for various reasons, those copies include a mistake. The more cells divide, the greater the odds of an error, and the more prone an error is to be duplicated again and again.

And elephant cells? Those things are dividing like crazy. Based on the number of cell divisions elephants need to get from Zuri’s size when we met to the size she is now, in just a few short years, it stands to reason they should get lots of cancer. Yet they almost never do.

“Going from 300 pounds as a calf to more than 10,000 pounds, gaining three-plus pounds a day, they’re growing so quickly, so big and so fast — baby elephants really shouldn’t make it to adulthood,” Schiffman said. “They should have 100 times the cancer. Just by chance alone, elephants should be dropping dead all over the place.” Indeed, he said, they should probably die of cancer before they’re even old enough to reproduce. “They should be extinct!”

Already, comparative oncologists suspected the exceptionally low rate of cancer in elephants had something to do with p53, a gene whose human analog is a known cancer suppressor. Most humans have one copy — two alleles — of the gene. Those with an inherited condition known as Li–Fraumeni syndrome, however, have just one allele — and a nearly 100 percent chance of getting cancer. The logical conclusion is more p53 alleles mean a better chance of staving off cancer. And elephants, it turns out, have twenty of them.

The big find that came from Schiffman’s exploration of the elephant blood he got at the zoo, though, was not just that there were more of these genes in elephants, but that the genes behaved a little bit differently, too.

In humans, the gene’s first approach for suppressing tumor growth is to try to repair faulty cells — the sort that cause cancer. So, at first, Schiffman’s team assumed having more p53 genes meant elephants had bigger repair crews. With the goal of watching those crews in action, the researchers exposed the elephant cells to radiation, causing DNA damage. But they noticed that, instead of trying to fix what was broken, the elephant cells seemed to grow something of a conscience.

To understand this, it’s helpful to think about how you’d respond in a zombie apocalypse. Of course you’d fight long and hard to keep from being infected, right? But if a zombie was about to chomp down on your arm, and there was nothing you could do to stop it, and if you had but one bullet remaining in your gun —and a few moments to consider what you might do to your fellow humans as a part of the legion of the undead — what would you do?

That’s what elephant cells do, too. Under the directive of p53, mutated cells don’t put up a fight. Upon recognizing the inevitability of malignant mutation, they take their own lives in a process known as apoptosis.

And they don’t just do this for one kind of cancer. The p53 gene apparently programs cells to do this in response to all kinds of malignantly mutated cells in elephants—a finding that flies in the face of the conventional assumption that there is no one singular cure for the complex group of disorders we call cancer.

When I first met Schiffman in 2016, he was brimming with excitement about the potential elephants have to help us understand cancer. He was also very cautious not to suggest he was anywhere near a cure, nor that he ever would be.

Just a few years later, though, Schiffman was speaking openly about his intention to rid the world of cancer. And, to that end, what’s happening in his lab is encouraging, to say the least.

He and his team have been injecting cancer cells with a synthetic version of a p53 protein modeled on the DNA he’s drawn from Zuri and other elephants from around the world. Viewed on time-lapse video, the results are unmistakable and amazing.

Breast cancer. Gone.

bone cancer. Gone.

Lung cancer. Gone.

One by one, each type of cancer cell falls victim to zombie-cell hara-kiri, shriveling and then exploding, and leaving nothing behind to mutate. Schiffman is now working with Avi Schroeder, an expert in nanomedical delivery systems at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, to create tiny delivery vehicles to take the synthetic elephant protein into mammalian tumors.

If this was all the benefit we ever derived from studying elephants, it would be plenty.

But it’s not. Not at all.



Read Full Post »

Real Time Coverage @BIOConvention #BIO2019: International Cancer Clusters Showcase June 3, Philadelphia PA

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams PhD @StephenJWillia2


Larry Blandford PharmD from Precision Medicine Group gave introduction about development of precision oncology medicine.  Talked about value and value determination for partnerships.

Company Pitches:

Kernal Biologics: Preclinical immunotherapy company developing mRNA therapeutics.  Their therapy only have activity in p53 deficient cells (messenger 2.0).  They identified, by screening, multiple mRNAs that have oncoselectivity; ONC-333 is their lead mRNA active in AML and NSCLC.  Looking for 5.5M seed $

Vaccibody AS: Vaccine technology from Oslo University to target antigen to antigen presenting cells.  They are targeting the myocytes and dimerize the antigen to MHC.  Targeting melanoma, certain cervical cancers, and hemotologic cancers.  Technology based on identified neoantigens obtained from tumor biopsy.Three vaccines: VB10.neo  VB10.16 against HPV cervical

Chimeric Therapeutics: developing CART to solid malignancies against CLEC14 (tumor endothelial marker), may make tumor susceptible to hypoxia.  Targeting pancreatic cancer, prelim results in mice , efficacy of 15%, working on 3rd generation CART

Memo Therapeutics: Antibody therapeutics; based on Dropzylla single B cell sorting and subsequent screening for mAb.  Targeting checkpoint inhibitors on solid tumors;  have a new target other than PD1; target undisclosed on NK cells and T cells; Early stage have academic partners; seeking 20Million Swiss Francs

Takeda Oncology: Chris Hurff Senior Director Business Development; they depend on partnerships as they feel internal RD is less effective.  They are diversifying their portfolio from small molecules. They have over 200 partnerships (132 in Boston). They are focusing on heme, lung, and Immunooncology. Partnering model: CEI (center external innovation) deals with both academic and small biotechs.  They have numerous partners including Shatto and MD Anderson.



Read Full Post »

Newly Found Functions of B Cell

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.


The importance of B cells to human health is more than what is already known. Vaccines capable of eradicating disease activate B cells, cancer checkpoint blockade therapies are produced using B cells, and B cell deficiencies have devastating impacts. B cells have been a subject of fascination since at least the 1800s. The notion of a humoral branch to immunity emerged from the work of and contemporaries studying B cells in the early 1900s.


Efforts to understand how we could make antibodies from B cells against almost any foreign surface while usually avoiding making them against self, led to Burnet’s clonal selection theory. This was followed by the molecular definition of how a diversity of immunoglobulins can arise by gene rearrangement in developing B cells. Recombination activating gene (RAG)-dependent processes of V-(D)-J rearrangement of immunoglobulin (Ig) gene segments in developing B cells are now known to be able to generate an enormous amount of antibody diversity (theoretically at least 1016 possible variants).


With so much already known, B cell biology might be considered ‘‘done’’ with only incremental advances still to be made, but instead, there is great activity in the field today with numerous major challenges that remain. For example, efforts are underway to develop vaccines that induce broadly neutralizing antibody responses, to understand how autoantigen- and allergen-reactive antibodies arise, and to harness B cell-depletion therapies to correct non-autoantibody-mediated diseases, making it evident that there is still an enormous amount we do not know about B cells and much work to be done.


Multiple self-tolerance checkpoints exist to remove autoreactive specificities from the B cell repertoire or to limit the ability of such cells to secrete autoantigen-binding antibody. These include receptor editing and deletion in immature B cells, competitive elimination of chronically autoantigen binding B cells in the periphery, and a state of anergy that disfavors PC (plasma cell) differentiation. Autoantibody production can occur due to failures in these checkpoints or in T cell self-tolerance mechanisms. Variants in multiple genes are implicated in increasing the likelihood of checkpoint failure and of autoantibody production occurring.


Autoantibodies are pathogenic in a number of human diseases including SLE (Systemic lupus erythematosus), pemphigus vulgaris, Grave’s disease, and myasthenia gravis. B cell depletion therapy using anti-CD20 antibody has been protective in some of these diseases such as pemphigus vulgaris, but not others such as SLE and this appears to reflect the contribution of SLPC (Short lived plasma cells) versus LLPC (Long lived plasma cells) to autoantibody production and the inability of even prolonged anti-CD20 treatment to eliminate the later. These clinical findings have added to the importance of understanding what factors drive SLPC versus LLPC development and what the requirements are to support LLPCs.


B cell depletion therapy has also been efficacious in several other autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). While the potential contributions of autoantibodies to the pathology of these diseases are still being explored, autoantigen presentation has been posited as another mechanism for B cell disease-promoting activity.


In addition to autoimmunity, B cells play an important role in allergic diseases. IgE antibodies specific for allergen components sensitize mast cells and basophils for rapid degranulation in response to allergen exposures at various sites, such as in the intestine (food allergy), nose (allergic rhinitis), and lung (allergic asthma). IgE production may thus be favored under conditions that induce weak B cell responses and minimal GC (Germinal center) activity, thereby enabling IgE+ B cells and/or PCs to avoid being outcompeted by IgG+ cells. Aside from IgE antibodies, B cells may also contribute to allergic inflammation through their interactions with T cells.


B cells have also emerged as an important source of the immunosuppressive cytokine IL-10. Mouse studies revealed that B cell-derived IL-10 can promote recovery from EAE (Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis) and can be protective in models of RA and type 1 diabetes. Moreover, IL-10 production from B cells restrains T cell responses during some viral and bacterial infections. These findings indicate that the influence of B cells on the cytokine milieu will be context dependent.


The presence of B cells in a variety of solid tumor types, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and melanoma, has been associated in some studies with a positive prognosis. The mechanism involved is unclear but could include antigen presentation to CD4 and CD8 T cells, antibody production and subsequent enhancement of presentation, or by promoting tertiary lymphoid tissue formation and local T cell accumulation. It is also noteworthy that B cells frequently make antibody responses to cancer antigens and this has led to efforts to use antibodies from cancer patients as biomarkers of disease and to identify immunotherapy targets.


Malignancies of B cells themselves are a common form of hematopoietic cancer. This predilection arises because the gene modifications that B cells undergo during development and in immune responses are not perfect in their fidelity, and antibody responses require extensive B cell proliferation. The study of B cell lymphomas and their associated genetic derangements continues to be illuminating about requirements for normal B cell differentiation and signaling while also leading to the development of targeted therapies.


Overall this study attempted to capture some of the advances in the understanding of B cell biology that have occurred since the turn of the century. These include important steps forward in understanding how B cells encounter antigens, the co-stimulatory and cytokine requirements for their proliferation and differentiation, and how properties of the B cell receptor, the antigen, and helper T cells influence B cell responses. Many advances continue to transform the field including the impact of deep sequencing technologies on understanding B cell repertoires, the IgA-inducing microbiome, and the genetic defects in humans that compromise or exaggerate B cell responses or give rise to B cell malignancies.


Other advances that are providing insight include:

  • single-cell approaches to define B cell heterogeneity,
  • glycomic approaches to study effector sugars on antibodies,
  • new methods to study human B cell responses including CRISPR-based manipulation, and
  • the use of systems biology to study changes at the whole organism level.

With the recognition that B cells and antibodies are involved in most types of immune response and the realization that inflammatory processes contribute to a wider range of diseases than previously believed, including, for example, metabolic syndrome and neurodegeneration, it is expected that further

  • basic research-driven discovery about B cell biology will lead to more and improved approaches to maintain health and fight disease in the future.




Read Full Post »

A Nonlinear Methodology to Explain Complexity of the Genome and Bioinformatic Information

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

Multifractal bioinformatics: A proposal to the nonlinear interpretation of genome

The following is an open access article by Pedro Moreno on a methodology to analyze genetic information across species and in particular, the evolutionary trends of complex genomes, by a nonlinear analytic approach utilizing fractal geometry, coined “Nonlinear Bioinformatics”.  This fractal approach stems from the complex nature of higher eukaryotic genomes including mosaicism, multiple interdispersed  genomic elements such as intronic regions, noncoding regions, and also mobile elements such as transposable elements.  Although seemingly random, there exists a repetitive nature of these elements. Such complexity of DNA regulation, structure and genomic variation is felt best understood by developing algorithms based on fractal analysis, which can best model the regionalized and repetitive variability and structure within complex genomes by elucidating the individual components which contributes to an overall complex structure rather than using a “linear” or “reductionist” approach looking at individual coding regions, which does not take into consideration the aforementioned factors leading to genetic complexity and diversity.

Indeed, many other attempts to describe the complexities of DNA as a fractal geometric pattern have been described.  In a paper by Carlo Cattani “Fractals and Hidden Symmetries in DNA“, Carlo uses fractal analysis to construct a simple geometric pattern of the influenza A virus by modeling the primary sequence of this viral DNA, namely the bases A,G,C, and T. The main conclusions that

fractal shapes and symmetries in DNA sequences and DNA walks have been shown and compared with random and deterministic complex series. DNA sequences are structured in such a way that there exists some fractal behavior which can be observed both on the correlation matrix and on the DNA walks. Wavelet analysis confirms by a symmetrical clustering of wavelet coefficients the existence of scale symmetries.

suggested that, at least, the viral influenza genome structure could be analyzed into its basic components by fractal geometry.
This approach has been used to model the complex nature of cancer as discussed in a 2011 Seminars in Oncology paper
Abstract: Cancer is a highly complex disease due to the disruption of tissue architecture. Thus, tissues, and not individual cells, are the proper level of observation for the study of carcinogenesis. This paradigm shift from a reductionist approach to a systems biology approach is long overdue. Indeed, cell phenotypes are emergent modes arising through collective non-linear interactions among different cellular and microenvironmental components, generally described by “phase space diagrams”, where stable states (attractors) are embedded into a landscape model. Within this framework, cell states and cell transitions are generally conceived as mainly specified by gene-regulatory networks. However, the system s dynamics is not reducible to the integrated functioning of the genome-proteome network alone; the epithelia-stroma interacting system must be taken into consideration in order to give a more comprehensive picture. Given that cell shape represents the spatial geometric configuration acquired as a result of the integrated set of cellular and environmental cues, we posit that fractal-shape parameters represent “omics descriptors of the epithelium-stroma system. Within this framework, function appears to follow form, and not the other way around.

As authors conclude

” Transitions from one phenotype to another are reminiscent of phase transitions observed in physical systems. The description of such transitions could be obtained by a set of morphological, quantitative parameters, like fractal measures. These parameters provide reliable information about system complexity. “

Gene expression also displays a fractal nature. In a Frontiers in Physiology paper by Mahboobeh Ghorbani, Edmond A. Jonckheere and Paul Bogdan* “Gene Expression Is Not Random: Scaling, Long-Range Cross-Dependence, and Fractal Characteristics of Gene Regulatory Networks“,

the authors describe that gene expression networks display time series display fractal and long-range dependence characteristics.

Abstract: Gene expression is a vital process through which cells react to the environment and express functional behavior. Understanding the dynamics of gene expression could prove crucial in unraveling the physical complexities involved in this process. Specifically, understanding the coherent complex structure of transcriptional dynamics is the goal of numerous computational studies aiming to study and finally control cellular processes. Here, we report the scaling properties of gene expression time series in Escherichia coliand Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Unlike previous studies, which report the fractal and long-range dependency of DNA structure, we investigate the individual gene expression dynamics as well as the cross-dependency between them in the context of gene regulatory network. Our results demonstrate that the gene expression time series display fractal and long-range dependence characteristics. In addition, the dynamics between genes and linked transcription factors in gene regulatory networks are also fractal and long-range cross-correlated. The cross-correlation exponents in gene regulatory networks are not unique. The distribution of the cross-correlation exponents of gene regulatory networks for several types of cells can be interpreted as a measure of the complexity of their functional behavior.


Given that multitude of complex biomolecular networks and biomolecules can be described by fractal patterns, the development of bioinformatic algorithms  would enhance our understanding of the interdependence and cross funcitonality of these mutiple biological networks, particularly in disease and drug resistance.  The article below by Pedro Moreno describes the development of such bioinformatic algorithms.

Pedro A. Moreno
Escuela de Ingeniería de Sistemas y Computación, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia

Eje temático: Ingeniería de sistemas / System engineering
Recibido: 19 de septiembre de 2012
Aceptado: 16 de diciembre de 2013




The first draft of the human genome (HG) sequence was published in 2001 by two competing consortia. Since then, several structural and functional characteristics for the HG organization have been revealed. Today, more than 2.000 HG have been sequenced and these findings are impacting strongly on the academy and public health. Despite all this, a major bottleneck, called the genome interpretation persists. That is, the lack of a theory that explains the complex puzzles of coding and non-coding features that compose the HG as a whole. Ten years after the HG sequenced, two recent studies, discussed in the multifractal formalism allow proposing a nonlinear theory that helps interpret the structural and functional variation of the genetic information of the genomes. The present review article discusses this new approach, called: “Multifractal bioinformatics”.

Keywords: Omics sciences, bioinformatics, human genome, multifractal analysis.

1. Introduction

Omic Sciences and Bioinformatics

In order to study the genomes, their life properties and the pathological consequences of impairment, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was created in 1990. Since then, about 500 Gpb (EMBL) represented in thousands of prokaryotic genomes and tens of different eukaryotic genomes have been sequenced (NCBI, 1000 Genomes, ENCODE). Today, Genomics is defined as the set of sciences and technologies dedicated to the comprehensive study of the structure, function and origin of genomes. Several types of genomic have arisen as a result of the expansion and implementation of genomics to the study of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology (CDMB), Figure 1 (above). The catalog of different types of genomics uses the Latin suffix “-omic” meaning “set of” to mean the new massive approaches of the new omics sciences (Moreno et al, 2009). Given the large amount of genomic information available in the databases and the urgency of its actual interpretation, the balance has begun to lean heavily toward the requirements of bioinformatics infrastructure research laboratories Figure 1 (below).

The bioinformatics or Computational Biology is defined as the application of computer and information technology to the analysis of biological data (Mount, 2004). An interdisciplinary science that requires the use of computing, applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, artificial intelligence, biophysical information, biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology. Bioinformatics was born from the need to understand the sequences of nucleotide or amino acid symbols that make up DNA and proteins, respectively. These analyzes are made possible by the development of powerful algorithms that predict and reveal an infinity of structural and functional features in genomic sequences, as gene location, discovery of homologies between macromolecules databases (Blast), algorithms for phylogenetic analysis, for the regulatory analysis or the prediction of protein folding, among others. This great development has created a multiplicity of approaches giving rise to new types of Bioinformatics, such as Multifractal Bioinformatics (MFB) that is proposed here.

1.1 Multifractal Bioinformatics and Theoretical Background

MFB is a proposal to analyze information content in genomes and their life properties in a non-linear way. This is part of a specialized sub-discipline called “nonlinear Bioinformatics”, which uses a number of related techniques for the study of nonlinearity (fractal geometry, Hurts exponents, power laws, wavelets, among others.) and applied to the study of biological problems ( For its application, we must take into account a detailed knowledge of the structure of the genome to be analyzed and an appropriate knowledge of the multifractal analysis.

1.2 From the Worm Genome toward Human Genome

To explore a complex genome such as the HG it is relevant to implement multifractal analysis (MFA) in a simpler genome in order to show its practical utility. For example, the genome of the small nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an excellent model to learn many extrapolated lessons of complex organisms. Thus, if the MFA explains some of the structural properties in that genome it is expected that this same analysis reveals some similar properties in the HG.

The C. elegans nuclear genome is composed of about 100 Mbp, with six chromosomes distributed into five autosomes and one sex chromosome. The molecular structure of the genome is particularly homogeneous along with the chromosome sequences, due to the presence of several regular features, including large contents of genes and introns of similar sizes. The C. elegans genome has also a regional organization of the chromosomes, mainly because the majority of the repeated sequences are located in the chromosome arms, Figure 2 (left) (C. elegans Sequencing Consortium, 1998). Given these regular and irregular features, the MFA could be an appropriate approach to analyze such distributions.

Meanwhile, the HG sequencing revealed a surprising mosaicism in coding (genes) and noncoding (repetitive DNA) sequences, Figure 2 (right) (Venter et al., 2001). This structure of 6 Gbp is divided into 23 pairs of chromosomes (diploid cells) and these highly regionalized sequences introduce complex patterns of regularity and irregularity to understand the gene structure, the composition of sequences of repetitive DNA and its role in the study and application of life sciences. The coding regions of the genome are estimated at ~25,000 genes which constitute 1.4% of GH. These genes are involved in a giant sea of various types of non-coding sequences which compose 98.6% of HG (misnamed popularly as “junk DNA”). The non-coding regions are characterized by many types of repeated DNA sequences, where 10.6% consists of Alu sequences, a type of SINE (short and dispersed repeated elements) sequence and preferentially located towards the genes. LINES, MIR, MER, LTR, DNA transposons and introns are another type of non-coding sequences which form about 86% of the genome. Some of these sequences overlap with each other; as with CpG islands, which complicates the analysis of genomic landscape. This standard genomic landscape was recently clarified, the last studies show that 80.4% of HG is functional due to the discovery of more than five million “switches” that operate and regulate gene activity, re-evaluating the concept of “junk DNA”. (The ENCODE Project Consortium, 2012).

Given that all these genomic variations both in worm and human produce regionalized genomic landscapes it is proposed that Fractal Geometry (FG) would allow measuring how the genetic information content is fragmented. In this paper the methodology and the nonlinear descriptive models for each of these genomes will be reviewed.

1.3 The MFA and its Application to Genome Studies

Most problems in physics are implicitly non-linear in nature, generating phenomena such as chaos theory, a science that deals with certain types of (non-linear) but very sensitive dynamic systems to initial conditions, nonetheless of deterministic rigor, that is that their behavior can be completely determined by knowing initial conditions (Peitgen et al, 1992). In turn, the FG is an appropriate tool to study the chaotic dynamic systems (CDS). In other words, the FG and chaos are closely related because the space region toward which a chaotic orbit tends asymptotically has a fractal structure (strange attractors). Therefore, the FG allows studying the framework on which CDS are defined (Moon, 1992). And this is how it is expected for the genome structure and function to be organized.

The MFA is an extension of the FG and it is related to (Shannon) information theory, disciplines that have been very useful to study the information content over a sequence of symbols. Initially, Mandelbrot established the FG in the 80’s, as a geometry capable of measuring the irregularity of nature by calculating the fractal dimension (D), an exponent derived from a power law (Mandelbrot, 1982). The value of the D gives us a measure of the level of fragmentation or the information content for a complex phenomenon. That is because the D measures the scaling degree that the fragmented self-similarity of the system has. Thus, the FG looks for self-similar properties in structures and processes at different scales of resolution and these self-similarities are organized following scaling or power laws.

Sometimes, an exponent is not sufficient to characterize a complex phenomenon; so more exponents are required. The multifractal formalism allows this, and applies when many subgroups of fractals with different scalar properties with a large number of exponents or fractal dimensions coexist simultaneously. As a result, when a spectrum of multifractal singularity measurement is generated, the scaling behavior of the frequency of symbols of a sequence can be quantified (Vélez et al, 2010).

The MFA has been implemented to study the spatial heterogeneity of theoretical and experimental fractal patterns in different disciplines. In post-genomics times, the MFA was used to study multiple biological problems (Vélez et al, 2010). Nonetheless, very little attention has been given to the use of MFA to characterize the content of the structural genetic information of the genomes obtained from the images of the Chaos Representation Game (CRG). First studies at this level were made recently to the analysis of the C. elegans genome (Vélez et al, 2010) and human genomes (Moreno et al, 2011). The MFA methodology applied for the study of these genomes will be developed below.

2. Methodology

The Multifractal Formalism from the CGR

2.1 Data Acquisition and Molecular Parameters

Databases for the C. elegans and the 36.2 Hs_ refseq HG version were downloaded from the NCBI FTP server. Then, several strategies were designed to fragment the genomic DNA sequences of different length ranges. For example, the C. elegans genome was divided into 18 fragments, Figure 2 (left) and the human genome in 9,379 fragments. According to their annotation systems, the contents of molecular parameters of coding sequences (genes, exons and introns), noncoding sequences (repetitive DNA, Alu, LINES, MIR, MER, LTR, promoters, etc.) and coding/ non-coding DNA (TTAGGC, AAAAT, AAATT, TTTTC, TTTTT, CpG islands, etc.) are counted for each sequence.

2.2 Construction of the CGR 2.3 Fractal Measurement by the Box Counting Method

Subsequently, the CGR, a recursive algorithm (Jeffrey, 1990; Restrepo et al, 2009) is applied to each selected DNA sequence, Figure 3 (above, left) and from which an image is obtained, which is quantified by the box-counting algorithm. For example, in Figure 3 (above, left) a CGR image for a human DNA sequence of 80,000 bp in length is shown. Here, dark regions represent sub-quadrants with a high number of points (or nucleotides). Clear regions, sections with a low number of points. The calculation for the D for the Koch curve by the box-counting method is illustrated by a progression of changes in the grid size, and its Cartesian graph, Table 1

The CGR image for a given DNA sequence is quantified by a standard fractal analysis. A fractal is a fragmented geometric figure whose parts are an approximated copy at full scale, that is, the figure has self-similarity. The D is basically a scaling rule that the figure obeys. Generally, a power law is given by the following expression:

Where N(E) is the number of parts required for covering the figure when a scaling factor E is applied. The power law permits to calculate the fractal dimension as:

The D obtained by the box-counting algorithm covers the figure with disjoint boxes ɛ = 1/E and counts the number of boxes required. Figure 4 (above, left) shows the multifractal measure at momentum q=1.

2.4 Multifractal Measurement

When generalizing the box-counting algorithm for the multifractal case and according to the method of moments q, we obtain the equation (3) (Gutiérrez et al, 1998; Yu et al, 2001):

Where the Mi number of points falling in the i-th grid is determined and related to the total number Mand ɛ to box size. Thus, the MFA is used when multiple scaling rules are applied. Figure 4 (above, right) shows the calculation of the multifractal measures at different momentum q (partition function). Here, linear regressions must have a coefficient of determination equal or close to 1. From each linear regression D are obtained, which generate an spectrum of generalized fractal dimensions Dfor all q integers, Figure 4 (below, left). So, the multifractal spectrum is obtained as the limit:

The variation of the q integer allows emphasizing different regions and discriminating their fractal a high Dq is synonymous of the structure’s richness and the properties of these regions. Negative values emphasize the scarce regions; a high Dindicates a lot of structure and properties in these regions. In real world applications, the limit Dqreadily approximated from the data using a linear fitting: the transformation of the equation (3) yields:

Which shows that ln In(Mi )= for set q is a linear function in the ln(ɛ), Dq can therefore be evaluated as q the slope of a fixed relationship between In(Mi )= and (q-1) ln(ɛ). The methodologies and approaches for the method of box-counting and MFA are detailed in Moreno et al, 2000, Yu et al, 2001; Moreno, 2005. For a rigorous mathematical development of MFA from images consult Multifractal system, wikipedia.

2.5 Measurement of Information Content

Subsequently, from the spectrum of generalized dimensions Dq, the degree of multifractality ΔDq(MD) is calculated as the difference between the maximum and minimum values of : ΔD qq Dqmax – Dqmin (Ivanov et al, 1999). When qmaxqmin ΔDis high, the multifractal spectrum is rich in information and highly aperiodic, when ΔDq is small, the resulting dimension spectrum is poor in information and highly periodic. It is expected then, that the aperiodicity in the genome would be related to highly polymorphic genomic aperiodic structures and those periodic regions with highly repetitive and not very polymorphic genomic structures. The correlation exponent t(q) = (– 1)DqFigure 4 (below, right ) can also be obtained from the multifractal dimension Dq. The generalized dimension also provides significant specific information. D(q = 0) is equal to the Capacity dimension, which in this analysis is the size of the “box count”. D(q = 1) is equal to the Information dimension and D(q = 2) to the Correlation dimension. Based on these multifractal parameters, many of the structural genomic properties can be quantified, related, and interpreted.

2.6 Multifractal Parameters and Statistical and Discrimination Analyses

Once the multifractal parameters are calculated (D= (-20, 20), ΔDq, πq, etc.), correlations with the molecular parameters are sought. These relations are established by plotting the number of genome molecular parameters versus MD by discriminant analysis with Cartesian graphs in 2-D, Figure 5 (below, left) and 3-D and combining multifractal and molecular parameters. Finally, simple linear regression analysis, multivariate analysis, and analyses by ranges and clusterings are made to establish statistical significance.

3 Results and Discussion

3.1 Non-linear Descriptive Model for the C. elegans Genome

When analyzing the C. elegans genome with the multifractal formalism it revealed what symmetry and asymmetry on the genome nucleotide composition suggested. Thus, the multifractal scaling of the C. elegans genome is of interest because it indicates that the molecular structure of the chromosome may be organized as a system operating far from equilibrium following nonlinear laws (Ivanov et al, 1999; Burgos and Moreno-Tovar, 1996). This can be discussed from two points of view:

1) When comparing C. elegans chromosomes with each other, the X chromosome showed the lowest multifractality, Figure 5 (above). This means that the X chromosome is operating close to equilibrium, which results in an increased genetic instability. Thus, the instability of the X could selectively contribute to the molecular mechanism that determines sex (XX or X0) during meiosis. Thus, the X chromosome would be operating closer to equilibrium in order to maintain their particular sexual dimorphism.

2) When comparing different chromosome regions of the C. elegans genome, changes in multifractality were found in relation to the regional organization (at the center and arms) exhibited by the chromosomes, Figure 5 (below, left). These behaviors are associated with changes in the content of repetitive DNA, Figure 5 (below, right). The results indicated that the chromosome arms are even more complex than previously anticipated. Thus, TTAGGC telomere sequences would be operating far from equilibrium to protect the genetic information encoded by the entire chromosome.

All these biological arguments may explain why C. elegans genome is organized in a nonlinear way. These findings provide insight to quantify and understand the organization of the non-linear structure of the C. elegans genome, which may be extended to other genomes, including the HG (Vélez et al, 2010).

3.2 Nonlinear Descriptive Model for the Human Genome

Once the multifractal approach was validated in C. elegans genome, HG was analyzed exhaustively. This allowed us to propose a nonlinear model for the HG structure which will be discussed under three points of view.

1) It was found that the HG high multifractality depends strongly on the contents of Alu sequences and to a lesser extent on the content of CpG islands. These contents would be located primarily in highly aperiodic regions, thus taking the chromosome far from equilibrium and giving to it greater genetic stability, protection and attraction of mutations, Figure 6 (A-C). Thus, hundreds of regions in the HG may have high genetic stability and the most important genetic information of the HG, the genes, would be safeguarded from environmental fluctuations. Other repeated elements (LINES, MIR, MER, LTRs) showed no significant relationship,

Figure 6 (D). Consequently, the human multifractal map developed in Moreno et al, 2011 constitutes a good tool to identify those regions rich in genetic information and genomic stability. 2) The multifractal context seems to be a significant requirement for the structural and functional organization of thousands of genes and gene families. Thus, a high multifractal context (aperiodic) appears to be a “genomic attractor” for many genes (KOGs, KEEGs), Figure 6 (E) and some gene families, Figure 6 (F) are involved in genetic and deterministic processes, in order to maintain a deterministic regulation control in the genome, although most of HG sequences may be subject to a complex epigenetic control.

3) The classification of human chromosomes and chromosome regions analysis may have some medical implications (Moreno et al, 2002; Moreno et al, 2009). This means that the structure of low nonlinearity exhibited by some chromosomes (or chromosome regions) involve an environmental predisposition, as potential targets to undergo structural or numerical chromosomal alterations in Figure 6 (G). Additionally, sex chromosomes should have low multifractality to maintain sexual dimorphism and probably the X chromosome inactivation.

All these fractals and biological arguments could explain why Alu elements are shaping the HG in a nonlinearly manner (Moreno et al, 2011). Finally, the multifractal modeling of the HG serves as theoretical framework to examine new discoveries made by the ENCODE project and new approaches about human epigenomes. That is, the non-linear organization of HG might help to explain why it is expected that most of the GH is functional.

4. Conclusions

All these results show that the multifractal formalism is appropriate to quantify and evaluate genetic information contents in genomes and to relate it with the known molecular anatomy of the genome and some of the expected properties. Thus, the MFB allows interpreting in a logic manner the structural nature and variation of the genome.

The MFB allows understanding why a number of chromosomal diseases are likely to occur in the genome, thus opening a new perspective toward personalized medicine to study and interpret the GH and its diseases.

The entire genome contains nonlinear information organizing it and supposedly making it function, concluding that virtually 100% of HG is functional. Bioinformatics in general, is enriched with a novel approach (MFB) making it possible to quantify the genetic information content of any DNA sequence and their practical applications to different disciplines in biology, medicine and agriculture. This novel breakthrough in computational genomic analysis and diseases contributes to define Biology as a “hard” science.

MFB opens a door to develop a research program towards the establishment of an integrative discipline that contributes to “break” the code of human life. (http://pharmaceuticalintelligence. com/page/3/).

5. Acknowledgements

Thanks to the directives of the EISC, the Universidad del Valle and the School of Engineering for offering an academic, scientific and administrative space for conducting this research. Likewise, thanks to co authors (professors and students) who participated in the implementation of excerpts from some of the works cited here. Finally, thanks to Colciencias by the biotechnology project grant # 1103-12-16765.

6. References

Blanco, S., & Moreno, P.A. (2007). Representación del juego del caos para el análisis de secuencias de ADN y proteínas mediante el análisis multifractal (método “box-counting”). In The Second International Seminar on Genomics and Proteomics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology (pp. 17-25). Popayán, Colombia.         [ Links ]

Burgos, J.D., & Moreno-Tovar, P. (1996). Zipf scaling behavior in the immune system. BioSystem , 39, 227-232.         [ Links ]

C. elegans Sequencing Consortium. (1998). Genome sequence of the nematode C. elegans: a platform for investigating biology. Science , 282, 2012-2018.         [ Links ]

Gutiérrez, J.M., Iglesias A., Rodríguez, M.A., Burgos, J.D., & Moreno, P.A. (1998). Analyzing the multifractals structure of DNA nucleotide sequences. In, M. Barbie & S. Chillemi (Eds.) Chaos and Noise in Biology and Medicine (cap. 4). Hackensack (NJ): World Scientific Publishing Co.         [ Links ]

Ivanov, P.Ch., Nunes, L.A., Golberger, A.L., Havlin, S., Rosenblum, M.G., Struzikk, Z.R., & Stanley, H.E. (1999). Multifractality in human heartbeat dynamics. Nature , 399, 461-465.         [ Links ]

Jeffrey, H.J. (1990). Chaos game representation of gene structure. Nucleic Acids Research , 18, 2163-2175.         [ Links ]

Mandelbrot, B. (1982). La geometría fractal de la naturaleza. Barcelona. España: Tusquets editores.         [ Links ]

Moon, F.C. (1992). Chaotic and fractal dynamics. New York: John Wiley.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A. (2005). Large scale and small scale bioinformatics studies on the Caenorhabditis elegans enome. Doctoral thesis. Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, USA.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Burgos, J.D., Vélez, P.E., Gutiérrez, J.M., & et al., (2000). Multifractal analysis of complete genomes. In P roceedings of the 12th International Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference (pp. 80-81). Miami Beach (FL).         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Rodríguez, J.G., Vélez, P.E., Cubillos, J.R., & Del Portillo, P. (2002). La genómica aplicada en salud humana. Colombia Ciencia y Tecnología. Colciencias , 20, 14-21.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Vélez, P.E., & Burgos, J.D. (2009). Biología molecular, genómica y post-genómica. Pioneros, principios y tecnologías. Popayán, Colombia: Editorial Universidad del Cauca.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Vélez, P.E., Martínez, E., Garreta, L., Díaz, D., Amador, S., Gutiérrez, J.M., et. al. (2011). The human genome: a multifractal analysis. BMC Genomics , 12, 506.         [ Links ]

Mount, D.W. (2004). Bioinformatics. Sequence and ge nome analysis. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.         [ Links ]

Peitgen, H.O., Jürgen, H., & Saupe D. (1992). Chaos and Fractals. New Frontiers of Science. New York: Springer-Verlag.         [ Links ]

Restrepo, S., Pinzón, A., Rodríguez, L.M., Sierra, R., Grajales, A., Bernal, A., Barreto, E. et. al. (2009). Computational biology in Colombia. PLoS Computational Biology, 5 (10), e1000535.         [ Links ]

The ENCODE Project Consortium. (2012). An integrated encyclopedia of DNA elements in the human genome. Nature , 489, 57-74.         [ Links ]

Vélez, P.E., Garreta, L.E., Martínez, E., Díaz, N., Amador, S., Gutiérrez, J.M., Tischer, I., & Moreno, P.A. (2010). The Caenorhabditis elegans genome: a multifractal analysis. Genet and Mol Res , 9, 949-965.         [ Links ]

Venter, J.C., Adams, M.D., Myers, E.W., Li, P.W., & et al. (2001). The sequence of the human genome. Science , 291, 1304-1351.         [ Links ]

Yu, Z.G., Anh, V., & Lau, K.S. (2001). Measure representation and multifractal analysis of complete genomes. Physical Review E: Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics , 64, 031903.         [ Links ]


Other articles on Bioinformatics on this Open Access Journal include:

Bioinformatics Tool Review: Genome Variant Analysis Tools

2017 Agenda – BioInformatics: Track 6: BioIT World Conference & Expo ’17, May 23-35, 2017, Seaport World Trade Center, Boston, MA

Better bioinformatics

Broad Institute, Google Genomics combine bioinformatics and computing expertise

Autophagy-Modulating Proteins and Small Molecules Candidate Targets for Cancer Therapy: Commentary of Bioinformatics Approaches

CRACKING THE CODE OF HUMAN LIFE: The Birth of BioInformatics & Computational Genomics

Read Full Post »

Lesson 10 on Cancer, Oncogenes, and Aberrant Cell Signal Termination in Disease for #TUBiol3373

Curator: Stephen J. Williams

Please click on the following file to get the Powerpoint Presentation for this lecture

cell signaling 10 lesson_SJW 2019

There is a good reference to read on The Hallmarks of Cancer published first in 2000 and then updated with 2 new hallmarks in 2011 (namely the ability of cancer cells to reprogram their metabolism and 2. the ability of cancer cells to evade the immune system)

a link to the PDF is given here:



Please also go to other articles on this site which are relevant to this lecture.  You can use the search box in the upper right hand corner of the Home Page or these are few links you might find interesting

Development of Chemoresistance to Targeted Therapies: Alterations of Cell Signaling & the Kinome

Proteomics, Metabolomics, Signaling Pathways, and Cell Regulation: a Compilation of Articles in the Journal

Feeling the Heat – the Link between Inflammation and Cancer

Lesson 4 Cell Signaling And Motility: G Proteins, Signal Transduction: Curations and Articles of reference as supplemental information: #TUBiol3373

Immunotherapy Resistance Rears Its Ugly Head: PD-1 Resistant Metastatic Melanoma and More

Novel Mechanisms of Resistance to Novel Agents


Read Full Post »

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.


Gender of a person can affect the kinds of cancer-causing mutations they develop, according to a genomic analysis spanning nearly 2,000 tumours and 28 types of cancer. The results show striking differences in the cancer-causing mutations found in people who are biologically male versus those who are biologically female — not only in the number of mutations lurking in their tumours, but also in the kinds of mutations found there.


Liver tumours from women were more likely to carry mutations caused by a faulty system of DNA mending called mismatch repair, for instance. And men with any type of cancer were more likely to exhibit DNA changes thought to be linked to a process that the body uses to repair DNA with two broken strands. These biases could point researchers to key biological differences in how tumours develop and evolve across sexes.


The data add to a growing realization that sex is important in cancer, and not only because of lifestyle differences. Lung and liver cancer, for example, are more common in men than in women — even after researchers control for disparities in smoking or alcohol consumption. The source of that bias, however, has remained unclear.

In 2014, the US National Institutes of Health began encouraging researchers to consider sex differences in preclinical research by, for example, including female animals and cell lines from women in their studies. And some studies have since found sex-linked biases in the frequency of mutations in protein-coding genes in certain cancer types, including some brain cancers and advanced melanoma.


But the present study is the most comprehensive study of sex differences in tumour genomes so far. It looks at mutations not only in genes that code for proteins, but also in the vast expanses of DNA that have other functions, such as controlling when genes are turned on or off. The study also compares male and female genomes across many different cancers, which can allow researchers to pick up on additional patterns of DNA mutations, in part by increasing the sample sizes.


Researchers analysed full genome sequences gathered by the International Cancer Genome Consortium. They looked at differences in the frequency of 174 mutations known to drive cancer, and found that some of these mutations occurred more frequently in men than in women, and vice versa. When they looked more broadly at the loss or duplication of DNA segments in the genome, they found 4,285 sex-biased genes spread across 15 chromosomes.


There were also differences found when some mutations seemed to arise during tumour development, suggesting that some cancers follow different evolutionary paths in men and women. Researchers also looked at particular patterns of DNA changes. Such patterns can, in some cases, reflect the source of the mutation. Tobacco smoke, for example, leaves behind a particular signature in the DNA.


Taken together, the results highlight the importance of accounting for sex, not only in clinical trials but also in preclinical studies. This could eventually allow researchers to pin down the sources of many of the differences found in this study. Liver cancer is roughly three times as common in men as in women in some populations, and its incidence is increasing in some countries. A better understanding of its aetiology may turn out to be really important for prevention strategies and treatments.




Read Full Post »

Immunoediting can be a constant defense in the cancer landscape

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.


There are many considerations in the cancer immunoediting landscape of defense and regulation in the cancer hallmark biology. The cancer hallmark biology in concert with key controls of the HLA compatibility affinity mechanisms are pivotal in architecting a unique patient-centric therapeutic application. Selection of random immune products including neoantigens, antigens, antibodies and other vital immune elements creates a high level of uncertainty and risk of undesirable immune reactions. Immunoediting is a constant process. The human innate and adaptive forces can either trigger favorable or unfavorable immunoediting features. Cancer is a multi-disease entity. There are multi-factorial initiators in a certain disease process. Namely, environmental exposures, viral and / or microbiome exposure disequilibrium, direct harm to DNA, poor immune adaptability, inherent risk and an individual’s own vibration rhythm in life.


When a human single cell is crippled (Deranged DNA) with mixed up molecular behavior that is the initiator of the problem. A once normal cell now transitioned into full threatening molecular time bomb. In the modeling and creation of a tumor it all begins with the singular molecular crisis and crippling of a normal human cell. At this point it is either chop suey (mixed bit responses) or a productive defensive and regulation response and posture of the immune system. Mixed bits of normal DNA, cancer-laden DNA, circulating tumor DNA, circulating normal cells, circulating tumor cells, circulating immune defense cells, circulating immune inflammatory cells forming a moiety of normal and a moiety of mess. The challenge is to scavenge the mess and amplify the normal.


Immunoediting is a primary push-button feature that is definitely required to be hit when it comes to initiating immune defenses against cancer and an adaptation in favor of regression. As mentioned before that the tumor microenvironment is a “mixed bit” moiety, which includes elements of the immune system that can defend against circulating cancer cells and tumor growth. Personalized (Precision-Based) cancer vaccines must become the primary form of treatment in this case. Current treatment regimens in conventional therapy destroy immune defenses and regulation and create more serious complications observed in tumor progression, metastasis and survival. Commonly resistance to chemotherapeutic agents is observed. These personalized treatments will be developed in concert with cancer hallmark analytics and immunocentrics affinity and selection mapping. This mapping will demonstrate molecular pathway interface and HLA compatibility and adaptation with patientcentricity.



Read Full Post »

Older Posts »