Genetic Editing for Immediate Adaptation: The “Astonishing” Squid Edits Up to 60% of Its Nervous System RNA Transcripts On-the-Fly; Drosophila Just 3%

The principle of adaptation--the gradual modification of a species' structures and features--is one of the pillars of evolution. While there exists ample evidence to support the slow, ongoing process that alters the genetic makeup of a species, scientists could only suspect that there were also organisms capable of transforming themselves ad hoc to adjust to changing conditions. Now, a new study published online on January 8, 2015 in eLife by Dr. Eli Eisenberg of Tel Aviv University's (TAU’s) Department of Physics and Sagol School of Neuroscience, in collaboration with Dr. Joshua J. Rosenthal of the University of Puerto Rico, showcases the first example of an animal editing its own genetic makeup on-the-fly to modify most of its proteins, enabling adjustments to its immediate surroundings. The article is titled “The Majority of Transcripts in the Squid Nervous System Are Extensively Recoded by A-to-I RNA Editing.” The research, conducted in part by TAU graduate student Shahar Alon, explored RNA editing in the Doryteuthis pealieii squid. "We have demonstrated that RNA editing is a major player in genetic information processing, rather than an exception to the rule," said Dr. Eisenberg. "By showing that the squid's RNA editing dramatically reshaped its entire proteome — the entire set of proteins expressed by a genome, cell, tissue, or organism at a certain time — we proved that an organism’s self-editing of mRNA is a critical evolutionary and adaptive force." This demonstration, he said, may have implications for human diseases as well. RNA is a copy of the genetic code that is translated into protein. But the RNA "transcript" can be edited before being translated into protein, paving the way for different versions of proteins. Abnormal RNA editing in humans has been observed in patients with neurological diseases.
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