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Ancient defense mechanism may still be protecting us

A complex DNA error-correction system that likely evolved from an ancient self-defense mechanism is still active in nearly every organism, turning primeval genetic invaders' tricks against them and into useful cell functions. The mechanism, discovered by researchers at the University of Rochester, ensures that any foreign genetic material that has been inserted into the cell's DNA is neutralized before being passed on to the next generation. The research is published in the September 20 issue of Cell, and is reviewed in the recent issues of Science and Journal of Cell Biology.

"This is exciting research that provides new understanding of how cells control the activity of their genes," says Joseph G. Gall, a cell biologist at the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore. "This work shows once again that basic research on a seemingly obscure topic--how a minute pond organism reproduces--can throw light on important medical issues such as viral infection."

Martin Gorovsky, Rush Rhees Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, and his post doctoral colleague Kazufumi Mochizuki discovered the mechanism while looking at a single-celled organism called Tetrahymena, which contains two nuclei, the area of a cell where DNA is usually stored. The members of the University team wanted to learn how the cell transfers its genetic code from one of its nuclei to one in its offspring, so they monitored each step as the cell inspected its DNA and passed it to the next generation. That system of checks, which likely also exists in organisms more complex than the protozoan, revealed clues as to how the cell recognizes these harmful invaders by co-opting some of the invader's attributes to help regulate itself.

Gorovsky and Mochizuki showed that short strands of RNA (ribonucleic acid) likely migrate from one nucleus in the parental cell to the other before moving into a third developing nucleus in the progeny cells, all the while comparing one genetic template
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Contact: Jonathan Sherwood
Jonathan.Sherwood@rochester.edu
585-273-4726
University of Rochester
17-Oct-2002


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