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The many companies developing liquid biopsies to try to detect cancer early have so far largely mined the blood in search of things like mutations and epigenetic changes in human DNA shed by tumor cells.

Now, new research raises the possibility that liquid biopsies could be used to spot cancer in a totally different way: by hunting for the DNA of bacteria and viruses released from tumors into the bloodstream. It’s a hypothesis that, if validated with more study, could usher in an entirely new class of diagnostics for cancer.

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