Genes From 1630 and 2009

In the 1630s, the Fry family came to the New World with more than just dreams of prosperity and freedom. They also came with a genetic mutation that increased the likelihood of colon cancer in hundreds, if not thousands, of their descendants. The scientists who traced that gene back almost 370 years are now reporting that routine screening and education can prevent people with the mutated gene from developing cancer. Their new report on Mr. and Mrs. George Fry, who likely arrived in Massachusetts colony aboard the William & Mary, was presented in the Spring of 2009, at the 237th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Cancer records and a massive genealogic archive known as the Utah Population Database (UPDB) was used to trace the genetic condition to a Utah pioneer family and their 7,000 descendents. A New York family with the same genetic condition was also linked to the Utah group, which helped trace the two families back 16 generations to the Frys. The gene mutation causes a condition known as attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP). AFAP causes the growth of colorectal polyps that have the potential to become cancerous. People with the AFAP mutation have about a two in three risk of getting colon cancer, compared to about one in 24 for the general population. Through molecular testing, Neklason was able to find 15 families with the identical genetic change who appeared to be related. The researchers studied approximately 200 of the Frys’ descendants with the genetic mutation from two different families in Utah and New York State, identifying genetic and lifestyle differences that increased the likelihood of polyps. The group identified a gene known as NAT1 that may influence polyp growth. Using an extensive diet questionnaire, they also found that a high fat diet and obesity lends itself to more polyps. On the other hand, fish fats, bananas, calcium, aspirin and caffeine demonstrated some protective effects.

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