Sea urchins hold vital genetic clues
The purple sea urchin could help develop cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer, scientists at the University of St Andrews have discovered.
Creatures, such as the sea urchin and sponge, have been discovered to have a special genetic sequence previously only thought to be used by certain viruses.
Now these sea creatures could inform scientists how to produce a therapeutic response in our own cells.
This latest finding builds on the earlier discovery of a short genetic sequence (“2A”) caused by viruses which can be used to return cells to a stem-cell like state - allowing them to be manipulated and used for special treatments.
Martin Ryan, Professor of Translational Virology at the University of St Andrews, was the key researcher in the discovery.
He said: “You could put two - or more - different genes into one cell, but each individual gene would be expressed at very different levels.
“This process allows you to ’daisy-chain’ multiple genes into a single gene, but the different proteins made from each part of the new gene are expressed at the same level and within the same cell - which is a massive step forward.
“This sequence was first discovered in Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus, but we now know it is found in many other types of virus.”
The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council (MRC).