"Junk DNA" Can Sense Viral Infection
Using "deep sequencing," scientists believe "junk DNA" could become the "Achilles heel" of infections
Once considered unimportant "junk DNA," scientists have learned that non-coding RNA (ncRNA) RNA molecules that do not make proteins play a crucial role in cell function. Mutations in ncRNA are associated with a number of conditions, such as cancer, autism, and Alzheimer's disease.
Now, through the use of "deep sequencing" technology that sequences genetic materials of the human genome, Dr. Noam Shomron, Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, has discovered that infected with a virus, ncRNA gives off signals indicating the presence of an infectious agent - a pathogen.
His findings have been published in the journal Nucleic Acid Research.
"If we see that the number of particular RNA molecules increases during a specific viral infection, we can develop treatments to stop or slow their proliferation," explains Dr. Shomron.
Researchers conducted a blind study in which some cells were infected with the HIV virus and others were left uninfected. Using the deep sequencer, which can read tens of millions of sequences per experiment, they analyzed the ncRNA to see if the HIV virus could be detected in non-coding DNA materials. They were able to identify with 100% accuracy both infected and non-infected cells all because the ncRNA was giving off significant signals, explains Dr. Shomron.
These signals include either the increase or decrease of specific ncRNA molecules within a cell. "With the introduction of a pathogen, there is a reaction in both the coding and non-coding genes. By adding a new layer of information about pathogen and host interactions, we better understand the entire picture. And understanding the reactions of the ncRNA following infection by different viruses can open up the battle against all pathogens."
The researchers believe that if an ncRNA molecule significantly manifests itself during infection, the pathogen has co-opted that ncRNA to help the pathogen devastate the host such as the body. To help the body fight off the infection, drugs that stop or slow the molecules' proliferation could be a new, effective strategy.
This new finding allows research to develop treatments attacking a virus from two different directions at once, targeting both coding and non-coding genetic material, says Dr. Shomron. He suggests that ncRNA could prove to be the "Achilles heel" of pathogens.
Dr. Shomron and his team of researchers developed new software, called RandA, which stands for "ncRNA Read-and-Analyze," that performs ncRNA profiling and analysis on data generated through deep sequencing technology. It's this software that has helped them to uncover the features that characterize virus-infected cells.
Original article: http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=16479