Interfering With Gene Expression

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Science  26 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5470, pp. 1370-1372
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5470.1370

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An explosion of recent evidence is revealing a new cellular pathway for silencing specific genes at the messenger RNA (mRNA) level that may protect organisms against viruses and genetic damage. This mechanism, which is very widespread--it occurs in organisms ranging from the mold Neurospora to plants, worms, simple vertebrates like the zebrafish, and perhaps even mammals--is apparently triggered when the cell senses some kind of danger, such as a replicating virus or abnormal mRNA. By learning how the cell directs an RNA-cutting enzyme (ribonuclease) to specifically degrade just the mRNAs related to the trigger without affecting other genes, researchers have been able to devise a new method of inactivating specific genes--an ability that should be very useful for studying gene function and might also be used to create genetically modified plants and other organisms.