Protected by a Maelstrom

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Science  26 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5897, pp. 1742-1743
DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5897.1742c

Germ-line cells could be considered the most precious in the body, because they are the only cells to contribute directly to the next generation. Hence, special mechanisms should be in place to protect them from damaging agents such as transposable elements. Cells in many species silence these elements by using small noncoding RNAs. The RNA interference factors localize to perinuclear structures called nuage in germ cells. Soper et al. focus on a murine homolog of Drosophila maelstrom (mael), a gene that functions in the production of interfering RNAs, repression of transposable elements, and specification of the Drosophila oocyte axis. Similarly, the murine Mael gene is localized stage-specifically to the nuage structures in male germ cells. Eliminating Mael from mice resulted in defective meiosis due to abnormal chromosome synapsis and massive DNA damage. A mechanism for meiotic failure is demonstrated through Mael's function in transcriptional repression of transposable elements via a DNA methylation mechanism. — BAP

Dev. Cell 15, 285 (2008).

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