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Viral 'Fossils' In Our DNA May Help Us Fight Infection (sciencemag.org) 20

sciencehabit writes: In a new study, researchers led by Edward Chuong, a computational biologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, explored whether endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) help us fend off invaders. The scientists scanned three different human cell lines for ERVs in their DNA that could bind to innate immunity transcription factors, which turn on genes to ramp up the immune system's attack against pathogens. They found thousands of ERVs. The researchers predicted that if they remove this viral DNA from the cell, the transcription factors would not function properly, potentially disrupting genes involved in the innate immune response. Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, they snipped out several endogenous viruses from the cell's DNA. When researchers infected these ERV-depleted cells with the vaccinia virus, they found a much weaker innate immune response that unedited normal cells, the team reports online today in Science. A key immune protein wasn't produced and thus was not fighting the virus. When researchers later added the genes back into the cells experimentally, immune function was restored. This new research provides evidence that "an ancient viral element is assisting us against an infection," Chuong says.
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Viral 'Fossils' In Our DNA May Help Us Fight Infection

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    John Church can use CRISPR to lengthen my telomeres anytime!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe that was a bit too subtle.

      John Church is a co-inventor of CRISPR and famously promised (in December 2015) to cure aging within 5 years.

      One method currently in human trials is the lengthening of telomeres, which are strands of junk DNA that serve as a buffer; a bit of them gets clipped off every time a cell divides. This sets a cap on human longevity, but lengthening them could (in theory) remove that cap.

      • by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:47PM (#51634007) Journal

        Another contrary view is that lengthening telomeres will not only fail to reduce the increase in cancers with age, but could accelerate it. Cell genomes accumulate mutations over time (and cell divisions). Longer telomeres let the cells hang around longer, but don't prevent or repair the mutations. Sometimes, anti-fortuitously, these mutations lead to a cell becoming cancerous. Killing off cells which have accumulated too much damage or divided too many times is one of the body's defenses against cancer, and longer telomeres can delay or defeat this defense.

        (I'm not advocating either viewpoint - I know enough to be aware that the arguments exist, not enough to judge their correctness.)

  • What an individual experiences during their lifetime - such as being infected by and then fighting off a disease - can be passed on to their offspring! Next up, they just need to prove that giraffes that stretch their necks the most when feeding produce the longest-necked offspring, and his acquittal will be complete; take that, Darwin!

  • by Chikungunya ( 2998457 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @08:42PM (#51633459)

    I mean, this has been studied for many examples in the past but this experimental design results put a lot more weigh on this theory. I could not find the original article so I don't know what they used as a control, but as long as they deleted also equivalent sequences of the genome (not ERVs) without observing the drop of immunity this approach would clearly demonstrate this mechanism.

  • In this study they took a sample and edited the gene. This editing showed that removal of these EVRs produced a reduced immune response.

    How much (or many) of these EVRs would have to removed from within a person for this immune deficiency to show? By that I mean, they are altering a single gene within a cell but doesn't the body have multiple copies of the same gene as backup?

    Also, could a blast of radiation alter a single gene enough to cause this lack of immune response in a person? Would it be possible

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      our immune response can't handle this new virus?

      Maybe if the radiation gave us the right super-powers the problem would be stopping the immune system from ruining everything.

We gave you an atomic bomb, what do you want, mermaids? -- I. I. Rabi to the Atomic Energy Commission