Evidence for Lack of Anti-Viral Argonaute2 Proteins in Vertebrates

Insects and plants have an important ancient defense mechanism that helps them to fight viruses. This is encoded in their DNA. Scientists have long assumed that vertebrates - including humans - also had this same mechanism. But researchers at KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium, have found that vertebrates have lost this particular asset in the course of their evolution. The possibilities encoded in our DNA are expressed via RNA. Conversely, RNA interference (RNAi) can also suppress the expression of a specific gene. Insects and plants use this RNAi mechanism to defend themselves against viruses, among other things. With a little help, insects and plants can even be made resistant to certain diseases through this RNAi mechanism. Examples include so-called genetically modified crops. It seems only logical to assume, then, that humans can be protected against specific diseases in a similar way. However, past experiments to this effect have proven to be a challenge. Researchers from the Animal Physiology and Neurobiology unit at KU Leuven have now shown why this is the case. The research was published online on August 23, 2017 in Scientific Reports.
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