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RNA Interference Leads To Nobel Prize 105

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the making-the-double-helix-dance dept.
gollum123 writes "The Nobel Prize for medicine has been awarded to two US scientists who discovered a phenomenon called RNA interference, which regulates the expression of genes. From the article: 'The breakthrough has also given scientists the ability to systematically test the functions of all human genes. [...] The Nobel citation, issued by Sweden's Karolinska Institute, said: "This year's Nobel Laureates have discovered a fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information."'"
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RNA Interference Leads To Nobel Prize

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    for all you Americans read that as

    "lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala genetics lalalalalalalalalalalalaa"

    just like the guvmint does. OK?

    we'll let you know when it's all clear.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ccmay (116316)
      for all you Americans read that as "lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala genetics lalalalalalalalalalalalaa"

      Sometimes I wonder if Eurotrash sneering at the supposed lack of scientific sophistication here is related to insecurity over the "brain drain" from Europe to America that has helped give us more Nobel prizes than any other nation by far.

      -ccm

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by someone1234 (830754)
        I read somewhere that this so called 'brain drain' has been reversed for genetics. Asia is now leading in this kind of research.
        I think the GP post meant this too.

        Playing with the gene knobs is surely not what we, humble creations of the Intelligent Designer, are allowed to do.
        That's what the guvner said, hmm?
        • by hcob$ (766699)
          Asia is now leading in this kind of research. I think the GP post meant this too.
          It seems easy to lead when you FORGE [usatoday.com] data... but oh well.
        • by ccmay (116316)
          I read somewhere that this so called 'brain drain' has been reversed for genetics.

          Say, looky looky at the news this morning. Four more American Nobel laureates, including two who won the Medicine prize for work on RNA interference. Some brain drain, eh?

          -ccm

        • Playing with the gene knobs is surely not what we, humble creations of the Intelligent Designer, are allowed to do.

          "In a general way, man's evolutionary destiny is in his own hands, and scientific intelligence must sooner or later supersede the random functioning of uncontrolled natural selection and chance survival."-the Urantia Book p. 734.

          So, you see, I not only believe in evolution and intelligent design, I also believe that God wants us to "Play with the gene knobs".

          Hehe. Weird, huh?

      • by Zaatxe (939368)
        In the moment I saw this on the news I said: "Are americans still allowed to research on genetics? Where has Bush failed?" Of course, I meant this as a joke and people at home laughed. But if you have ever seen stand-up comedy, you know that it's funny because it's the truth.
      • by Tim C (15259)
        Well, for my part it's a reaction to the "USA! USA! America is the greatest!" message that permeates much of your cultural output and political attitude and manoeuvrings. Your reaction to what was clearly a joke doesn't do much to help, either...
    • by sparr0w (902739)
      Actually, since it was two American scientists that discovered the RNA interference, WE'LL let you know when it's all clear!
  • For a second there I thought the title said "RIAA Interference Leads To Nobel Prize". I have found their interference with people's lives to be creative, but Nobel Prize worthy...hardly.
  • by macadamia_harold (947445) on Monday October 02, 2006 @11:34PM (#16287523) Homepage
    The Nobel Prize for medicine has been awarded to two US scientists who discovered a phenomenon called RNA interference, which regulates the expression of genes.

    In other news, President Bush has awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to two US scientists who discovered the gene which regulates the expression of opinion.
    • by Speare (84249)
      President Bush has awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to two US scientists who discovered the gene which regulates the expression of opinion.

      No, silly, that's RNC interference.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd like all of you to take note of how the RNA looks like a cross. Go on, look at the pretty photo that comes with the article.

    This is because God intelligently designed RNA, all those two thousand years ago.
  • It seems that DNA is the 'paper tape' component of the genetic Turing machine. mRNA seems to be the data bus and RNA interference is the ALU.

    If the basic building blocks of life (genes) can be reduced to algorithms, how much longer until we can reduce the rest of our bodies to computer-replicable algorithms?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Corynorhinus (992879)
      Unfortunately its not that simple. The "central dogma" of DNA --> RNA --> Protein has been steadily added to over the past 20 years. Mechanisms such as RNAi have been added to a growing list of different regulatory levels, from transcription to translation, alternative splicing, to protein modifications, to chromatin density...etc. Discoveries like RNAi continually show us that our "programming language" is much more complex than feeding instructions on a paper tape.
      • Re:Paper tape (Score:4, Interesting)

        by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday October 02, 2006 @11:57PM (#16287685)
        Displaying a comment on a weblog in a browser in a windowing user environment on an OS running on a slew of hardware components each handling its own logic and interfacing with each other is also a very complex task. Yet it is still reduceable to instructions on a paper tape.
        • Re:Paper tape (Score:5, Informative)

          by Corynorhinus (992879) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @12:18AM (#16287789)
          DNA doesn't tell you the whole story. A developing zygote doesn't respond only to its own genetic makeup, but also to prepackaged mRNA signals from the parents, whose DNA differs from that of the zygote. The zygote's environment and packaging determines its phenotype as much as its own DNA does in the early stages of development. Viruses that convert RNA to DNA show that the messaging isn't one-way and that DNA can be reprogrammed on the fly. It is this adaptability that makes living things so adaptable and diverse. If DNA was merely a static instruction set, the diversity and complexity of life we see today wouldn't be possible.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)
            So you're saying that in addition to the program data on the tape, that additional environmental factors such as mRNA and RNAi (aka the HW platform) are just as much part of the total machine as the data is.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Corynorhinus (992879)
              Yes, but due to a few billion years of evolution, the interactions between the genome, the protein interaction networks, and RNA signalling make the prospect of writing code for life forms almost as bad as writing Windows Vista in BASIC, Java, and Lisp combined... I wish it was easier (I work in the computational biology field) but evolution doesn't comment its code very well.
              • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

                by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)
                Sounds like a Linux distro, to be honest.
          • Viruses that convert RNA to DNA show that the messaging isn't one-way and that DNA can be reprogrammed on the fly

            Do you mean to say that viruses could be introduced into an organism to change DNA? If so would it be possible for there to be something like inheritance where genetic characteristics propogate directly between organisms rather than through reproduction?

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Agripa (139780)
              Do you mean to say that viruses could be introduced into an organism to change DNA? If so would it be possible for there to be something like inheritance where genetic characteristics propogate directly between organisms rather than through reproduction?

              I am not entirely clear what you are asking but there are cases where children express phenotypes controlled by the mother's DNA. In some species of snail, the direction of the child's shell rotation is controlled by the mother's genes.
            • Re:Paper tape (Score:4, Informative)

              by Roxton (73137) <roxton@gmai l . com> on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @09:44AM (#16290859) Homepage Journal
              It's called horizontal gene transfer [wikipedia.org], and it's more common than you think.
              • CNN reported on Sunday morning that investigators of Morgellons Disease (previously discussed [slashdot.org]) have found plant genetic material in association with it. Could this be horizontal transfer from genmod plants (perhaps through other plant intermediaries)? All of the victims have worked with plants, either as hobby or profession.
                • by CTachyon (412849)

                  I'm not the OP, but lateral gene transfer between plants and animals seems extremely unlikely. Plant DNA and Animal DNA, although they share some similarities as they are both eukaryotic (e.g. large amounts of non-coding "junk", much of it regulatory), they're very different in other important respects. More importantly, there's no obvious mechanism by which lateral gene transfer could occur, since plant-infecting viruses don't affect humans and vice versa. Viruses have a hard enough time jumping from ap

              • So, it is possible to develop web spinning cells after being bitten by a radioactive spider.
              • by ZSpade (812879)
                It's called horizontal gene transfer, and it's more common than you think.

                Well I suppose that makes sense, most of my gene transferring occurs horizontally.

                Giggity Giggity Giggity!
        • All hail the machine lord! Glory to all robo kind!
      • by Shadyman (939863)
        Discoveries like RNAi continually show us that our "programming language" is much more complex than feeding instructions on a paper tape.

        Not paper tape... punchcards! The way of the future!
    • Re:Paper tape (Score:5, Informative)

      by glwtta (532858) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @01:16AM (#16288047) Homepage
      It seems that DNA is the 'paper tape' component of the genetic Turing machine. mRNA seems to be the data bus and RNA interference is the ALU.

      In the "Genetic Turing Machine" the 'tape' is comprised of DNA, RNA (in various forms), and proteins; the 'head' is mostly protein and RNA; and the FSM involves DNA, RNA, and protein. Oh, with some other crap, like metals, sprinkled throughout. Information is encoded in DNA and various other epigenetic systems (about which we know very little at this point). Reading and writing from/to this 'tape' is accomplished with mechanisms built from proteins and RNA, proteins whose production is regulated by other proteins and various forms of RNA.

      There is no similarity in the fundamental workings of biological systems and computers, except perhaps (depending how you feel about the Church-Turing thesis) their computability power.

      Computer metaphors are generally useless, whether you are trying to explain computers using cars, or humans using computers.

      Oh, but reducing our bodies to algorithms is simple - all you have to do is model the physicals properties of all the atoms that comprise the body. It's simply a matter of processing power.
      • The "uber-nifty" thing about Turing machines is that any conceivable combination of turing machines controlling other turing machines running hundreds of millions of multiple tapes is ALL reducible down to a single turing machine running a single tape.

        All that to say, you could represent everything going on at a biological level in a turing machine... but you'd have to be retarded... and masochistic.... and probably a bit insane too...

        This is in partial response to your post, and another post by someone c

        • by glwtta (532858)
          and you're wrong in that the abstract turing machine can, indeed, represent whatever is going on at those lower biological levels, since, they're stateful.

          Depends on what you mean by "represent". A TM can certainly simulate (hypothetically) any biological process (unless you believe in God), but "represent" is just too vague in this conext. The OP was trying to liken different parts of a particular, abstract, TM construct (head + tape + fsm) with different components of the Central Dogma - and that's s
          • well... it represents the process (even if you believe in god... unless eternal souls are somehow biological)... but you're right, it's not exactly analagous in the way most people would understand...
    • Cells manufacture proteins via DNA->RNA->protein. This is more analogous to a nested function application. RNAi is more analogous to removing the outer function that then prevents expression of the intended protein. The cell erases the chalk board by absorbing the unused mRNA. Indeed this points to one of the RNAi central uses - that of infering which gene is doing what - turn one or more off and see what happens to the mouse.

      It's way too much of a leap to "humans can be abstracted as computer
  • by stuartrobinson (1003887) on Monday October 02, 2006 @11:48PM (#16287611) Homepage
    Here's the schedule for future announcements: http://nobelprize.org/prize_announcements/ [nobelprize.org]
  • This is pretty impressive - the work is just 8 years old. And Prof. Mello is pretty young (at least, looks like it)! Neat
  • by letsgolightning (1004592) on Monday October 02, 2006 @11:54PM (#16287653)
    The Nobel citation, issued by Sweden's Karolinska Institute, said: "This year's Nobel Laureates have discovered a fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information."

    I'm pretty sure condoms have been around for a while.
  • Unexpected discovery (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DebateG (1001165) on Monday October 02, 2006 @11:59PM (#16287693)
    The discovery of RNAi is one of science's best stories.

    In the 1980's, Dr. Rich Jorgensen was a botanist interesting in making prettier petunias. He identified chalcone synthase, an enzyme needed to manufacture the purple pigment in the flowers. He reasoned that the more chalcone synthase there was, the purpler the flowers would become.

    Normally, the cell DNA for an enzyme is copied into RNA, which is made into protein. It seemed logical that increasing the RNA would lead to more protein.

    In fact, the statement
    DNA -> RNA -> Protein
    is often called the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.

    Because single stranded RNA was so hard to synthesize, Jorgensen injected massive amounts of double stranded RNA for chalcone synthase into the petunias. Much to his surprise, the petunias didn't become more purple: they became white. Somehow, increasing the enzyme RNA number actually suppressed the protein.

    This Nobel Prize is well-deserved. By elucidating the mechanism of this paradoxical response, they challenged the Central Dogma. Moreover, by allowing scientists to "knock-down" genes, RNAi can be used to study the loss a single gene quickly and cheaply. It is very difficult to find a published biology paper today that doesn't use this technique.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This isn't quite correct... The phenomenon identified by Jorgenson et al. was cosupression... What they actually did was transfer an extra copy of the gene (DNA) for chalcone synthase into the petunia. What wasn't known until some years later is that this actually is based on the same mechanism as what happens in RNA interference. Essentially, the overproduction of the chalcone synthase is recognized by the plant, and a second strand of RNA is made, this then leads to the chalcone synthase mRNA being choppe
      • Hi, Thanks for making the correction. If I might, I'd like to note that actually the paper in question is Napoli et al., not Jorgensen et al. I've received plenty of credit but Carolyn gets forgotten, so please refer to the paper as Napoli et al. It's Carolyn Napoli, Christine Lemieux and me. 1990. You can find a free copy, with petunia photos, original cosuppression RNase protection experiment, etc., in The Plant Cell: http://www.plantcell.org/cgi/content/abstract/2/4/ 279 [plantcell.org] You can also find a link to this
    • by Tsiangkun (746511)
      This discovery changed our whole game overnight.

      It's never been easier to do massive screens to identify interacting factors on a genome wide scale.

      Before we used RNAi, we had a simple file server with one hard drive holding everyone's data, maybe 6GB.
      After RNAi, we have a respectable number of terabytes of images, and live videos of cells.

      It's a good time to be a scientist.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hrshgn (595514)
        I have to agree completely. RNAi is an amazing tool. We are using it every day in our lab. Before you had to generate knock-out animals to suppress the action of a gene. A very expensive and slow method.
        Now you can just add either RNAi directly to cells (a bit expensive), transfect cells with DNA which expresses RNAi (cheap) or even integrate a gene expressing RNAi into the genome of cells (laborious but very handy).

        Hrshgn
    • > It is very difficult to find a published biology paper today that doesn't use this technique.

      So its got a good pagerank.
    • It's also very difficult to find one of those papers that doesn't use the word "elucidate."
    • by anubi (640541)
      Stories like this - and posts like yours - are the main reason I read Slashdot.

      I envy you guys for being in position for doing the ultimate software hacks... on the genome of life itself.

    • by Unc-70 (975866)
      I think some people have misunderstood the central dogma of molecular biology. I'm happy to be corrected but I always understood that it referred to the flow of information rather than relative amounts. From wikipedia, Francis Crick's definition of the Central dogma:

      The central dogma of molecular biology deals with the detailed residue-by-residue transfer of sequential information. It states that such information cannot be transferred from protein to either protein or nucleic acid.

      Also, it is not hard t

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by srblackbird (569638)
      RNAi explained in a very clear way.
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3210/02.ht ml [pbs.org]
      Left-under is the video
  • by myc (105406) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @12:57AM (#16287969)
    IAACES (I am a C. elegans scientist) and have had the opportunity to interact with both Craig Mello and Andy Fire (albeit briefly) during and after seminars. An interesting study in contrast.

    Craig looks more like a rock star than a Nobel Prize winning scientist in person; he's got the faded blue jeans/shirt hanging out look down pat. He's also ~6'5 and has great hair. Looks aside, Craig is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Some of the science he has done is simply mind-blowing (not necesarily the RNAi stuff). Back in the late 90's when Craig was just beginning to work on RNAi I remember going to a seminar of his and thinking "wow, this stuff will win the Nobel Prize one day."

    Andy on the other hand looks exactly like the egghead stereotype of an absent-minded professor. Balding, wears thick round glasses, sweater and khakis. While not as physically imposing as Craig, Andy has this incredibly modest demeanor that really demonstrates what it means to be a *top notch* academic. No pretenciousness at all. As a "worm person", I will be eternally grateful for Andy for providing a vector kit for the C. elegans research community essentially free of charge. Even without the RNAi and other research accomplishments the worm community has much to thank Andy for.

  • RNAi 101 (Score:5, Informative)

    by DebateG (1001165) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @01:15AM (#16288041)
    From the comments here, it's pretty clear that very few people on Slashdot have any clue what RNAi is.

    Ever since the 1920's, scientists knew that DNA was the inheritable component that held the genes. They also knew that protein was the actual workhorse, the microscopic machines that accomplished cellular processes. Eventually, they elucidated that DNA copies itself into RNA, which is then converted into protein. Watson and Crick determined the structure of DNA, and proposed the mechanism for conversion of DNA to RNA.

    Since Watson and Crick's time, we have been using the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology:

    DNA -> RNA -> protein

    Increase the amount of DNA? That means more protein. Increase the amount of RNA? That means more protein.

    The big question in biology is now: given that there is usually just one gene for each protein, why do you have drastically different amounts of protein?

    What these guys show is that the Dogma really isn't entirely true. Sometimes you can add certain RNAs and make *less* protein. Moreover, they showed that this mechanism was conserved in organisms ranging from yeast to microscopic worms, to humans. In other words, small RNA molecules not only directed the synthesis of protein, they actually could be used to suppress it. An entirely new level of cellular regulation was elucidated.

    But to be quite honest, that wasn't the reason they won the Nobel Prize. It is for the experimental implications. Back before RNAi, if I were studying My Favorite Gene, the classical way to do it would be either to find a small molecule inhibitor (very difficult and expensive to find one) or to genetically modify cells to stop making it (also very time consuming and difficult). Now, with RNAi, I have a third, very fast method. Simply construct RNAi using a pretty standardized cookbook, order it online for around $100, and stick it in the cells. See what happens. Experiments that used to take months to years and cost thousands of dollars could now be done in a few days for a few hundred dollars.

    I'll put it in terms you guys can probably understand. Research without RNAi is like debugging without a debugger. Yeah, you can do it, but it's often time-consuming and confusing.

    • The central dogma doesn't refer to quantities ('more DNA = more protein')--it's about the flow of information from the relatively stable medium of DNA, through the transient messenger RNA, into the proteins that do the bulk of the work in the cell. The reason Fire and Mello's work flew in the face of the central dogma is because they showed that some small, non-protein producing RNAs could feed back and downregulate the production of protein from the mRNAs. And what's more, work that's going on right now in
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by recordMyRides (995726)
      Just to nitpick - it wasn't until 1944 that Oswald Theodore Avery, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty established that DNA was the "transforming principle". Read about it here: http://www.genome.gov/Pages/Education/Kit/main.cfm ?pageid=28 [genome.gov].
    • Research without RNAi is like debugging without a debugger. Yeah, you can do it, but it's often time-consuming and confusing.

      I write in Perl. To debug, I just put a "print" statement after every line in the program. Failing that, I change characters randomly until it works.
    • Please could you cite any real implications, but I mean real (that even average /. folk can grasp) because saying Experiments could now be done in a few days for a few hundred dollars that really sound like scientific blur agenda. What are you regulating with that "iRNA" and what is that for?
      • by thec (935476)
        The one that directly impacts me can be seen here: http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2003/june11/ hepb.html [stanford.edu] The article has, atleast to me, a layman's description of the process. Although this article only talks about using this method to regulate the Hepatitis B virus, other publications from various researchers have shown progress with AIDS and Hepatitis C.
    • by AxelBoldt (1490)

      Sometimes you can add certain RNAs and make *less* protein.

      Yes, but why don't you quickly say how and why this works, rather than leave it all obscure?

      DNA is double stranded: one string of letters glued to a complementary string of letters. If you know one strand, you can deduce the other strand, and the two strands like to stick together. This makes copying DNA especially easy. When DNA is to be converted into a protein, one of the strands is copied into an RNA strand. Such a strand contains the same

  • by ydnar (946)
    Somehow I read the headline as "GNAA Interference Leads to Nobel Peace Prize."
  • Just kidding.

    Personally this is one of the amazing stories for me. It is an obvious mechanism of regulation for chemist or physicist, but not so obvious for a biologist. The simplicity of theoreetical ideas and easy usage has destined this work for the fast Nobel track from the very beginning.

    Well done.
    • Nature article (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nucal (561664)
      Right here [nature.com] . Although I must beg to differ, with you - the mechanism wasn't obvious to anyone until this study. For what it's worth, it was in the "Letters" section of nature - it wasn't even a full article:

      Potent and specific genetic interference by double-stranded RNA in Caenorhabditis elegans

      ANDREW FIRE, SIQUN XU, MARY K. MONTGOMERY, STEVEN A. KOSTAS, SAMUEL E. DRIVER & CRAIG C. MELLO

      Experimental introduction of RNA into cells can be used in certain biological systems to interfere with th
  • One of them (Dr. Mello) works a floor below me at UMass Med, and is a genuinely *nice* guy. It's good to know that getting the Nobel doesn't seem to require being ruthless in your research.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @06:46AM (#16289555) Homepage
    According to top White House Scienticians, we also have to give equal credence to the ISGB3 hypothesis, in which personal characteristics are regulated by an Invisible Sky Giant shouting "BOOGLY BOOGLY BOOGLY".
  • First of all, obligatory Wikipedia reference [wikipedia.org]. As it quite often happens in Wikipedia it provides the most popular yet dry explanation of science.

    I would add to this an analogy.

    So, the storyline is DNA->mRNA->protein.

    The second leg of this classic protein production path is done on ribosomes - 100A brontosaurs of the cell. One of the elements of protein synthesis on these astounding machines is recognition of a triplet of nucleotides (codon) on the matrix RNA (mRNA) by tRNAs (transfer RNAs) that uses a
  • I graduated only about a year ago with a BS (yeah, haha) in Biochemistry. You know, just for fun. I remember this being in my textbooks. Did they just offer some additional proof to a theory or something? We've known about double stranded RNA, RNA enzymes (ribozymes) and RNA proteins... these sorts of molecules have been to known in RNA interference for awhile now. Its predicted that the world was first RNA based, not DNA. A sequence of RNA molecules can be programmed to cleave another RNA sequence (or even
    • by liswinz (968220)
      If this was in your textbooks, it was because of their 1998 paper and the subsequent work that has shown that the mechanisms are involved are conserved all the way to mammals. I do know what you mean about the theory that everything started with RNA, which can both act as genetic material and have important enzymatic and structural properties. However, RNAi is very different from the big RNA molecules that act as enzymes (ribosymes) and I'm not really sure what you mean by RNA proteins.

      RNAi is a natural

  • Dr. Hibbert: Good lord, you're wasting thousands of dollars worth of Interferon!
    Homer: And you're "interferon" with our good time! Hehehehe!
  • So can I now code DNA to do this...?

    #include main() { printf("Hello, World."); }

    • Yes, you can, but it takes 9 months to compile and requires a mixed gender team of programmers. May be more difficult for most of the /. crowd of programmers.
  • God did it! (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by IdleTime (561841)
    You are all wrong!

    God did it and the bible clearly says so.
    • by Zaatxe (939368)
      You are all wrong! God did it and the bible clearly says so.

      "Funny" mod will not improve your karma, buddy!
  • Rack another Nobel Prize up for MIT affiliated people And don't forget the physics one as well that guy won today. (MIT++)++;

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