Date: April 27, 2017
Source: University of Rochester Medical Center
Our bodies are constantly under siege by foreign invaders; viruses, bacteria and parasites that want to infiltrate our cells. A new study in the journal eLife sheds light on how germ cells -- sperm and egg -- protect themselves from these attackers so that they can pass accurate genetic information to the next generation.
Researchers from the University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics examined the role of piRNA in safeguarding the integrity of the genetic information in germ cells. It's known that piRNA -- a type of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that's found most readily in the testes and ovaries -- shields germ cells by silencing the genetic sequences of viral intruders. It's also known that defects or mutations in piRNA lead to infertility in humans and other animals. What's not known is how piRNAs are generated in the first place.
A team led by Xin Li, Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Urology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, analyzed rooster testes to find out.
Chickens acquire and harbor a wide variety of viruses. When a virus infects a host, like a chicken, it does everything it can to survive. One method of survival is inserting its genetic material into the chicken's genome. Over generations, the inserted virus accumulates mutations and eventually becomes harmless to the animal, but it's still a part of the chicken's genetic material.