Investigators already knew that plants defend themselves against invading pathogens like viruses by generating short RNAs that recognize and silence foreign viral RNA. Observing that plants may silence their own RNAs in this manner was unanticipated. Our study shows that the way plants regulate RNAs produced in viruses is also probably the way they regulate their own genes, said Ecker. This has not been shown before in any organismplant or animal.
Ecker thinks this type of mRNA silencing is not an aberration of ein5/abh1 mutant plants. What we are seeing is in these mutants is probably a generic phenomenon that will likely hold true across all systems, said Ecker.
And why have these types of small RNAs not been observed before" Probably because researchers have not had the toolsnamely, the right mutants scrutinized by powerful new sequencing technologyto detect them until now.
Brian D. Gregory, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Ecker lab and first author of the paper, feels that understanding small RNA activitywhether in a plant or animal cell settinghas implications for cancer research, a connection you might expect a plant biologist who is also recipient of the highly prestigious Damon Runyon fellowship for cancer research to make.
What we learn about RNA silencing pathways in plants could be applied to cancer chemotherapy, Gregory explained. There are genes expressed in tumor cells that protect them from being killed by chemotherapywe might be able to use small RNAs to antagonize the effect of these genes in cancer cells.
Ecker also sees the study as particularly timely in terms of ecological change. If you understand how plants respond normally to pathogens, you can rapidly make changes in that response, he said. If climate change occurs there is no doubt that insect pest populations will shift, and insects are what transmit viruses. Those insects will likely move into
|Contact: Gina Kirchweger|