In a study published in Nature Genetics, scientists from the RIKEN Center for Life Science Technologies in Japan, in collaboration with the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences, the University of Copenhagen and the Joint Genome Institute (Walnut Creek, California) have discovered that "jumping DNA" known as retrotransposons—viral elements incorporated into the human genome—may play a key role in the maintenance of pluripotency, the ability of stem cells to differentiate into many different types of body cells.
This story is part of a fundamental rethinking taking place in genomic science. In 2009, members of the FANTOM Consortium project reported that an important fraction of mammalian transcriptomes—meaning the RNA transcribed from the genome—consists of transcripts derived from retrotransposon elements, vestiges of ancient retroviruses from the same family as HIV that have in the past been considered to only parasite the genome. However, the biological function of these "jumping DNA"–associated RNA transcripts remained unknown.
In the current study on embryonic stem (ES) cells and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells using four high-throughput methods including cap analysis gene expression (CAGE), the researchers found that thousands of transcripts in stem cells that have not yet been annotated are transcribed from retrotransposons, presumably to elicit nuclear functions.
These transcripts were found to be expressed in stem cells, but not differentiated cells. Importantly, the work showed that several of these transcripts are involved in the maintenance of pluripotency, since degrading several of them using RNA interference caused iPS cells to lose their pluripotency and differentiate.
These transcripts appear to have been recruited, surprisingly both in the human and mouse genome, where they are used to maintain the pluripotency of stem cells. Somehow, organisms including humans appear to have recruited viral elements into their genome in a way that helps to maintain the pluripotency of stem cells that allow them to regenerate. Why this is so remains a mystery for future investigation.
Although the results of the study cannot be put directly into application in regenerative medicine, knowing that retrotransposon elements are essential in the transcriptional control of iPS and ES cells is an essential clue for solving the puzzle of how to create better types of cells in future regenerative medicine studies.
"Our work has just begun to unravel the scale of unexpected functions carried out by retrotransposons and their derived transcripts in stem cell biology. We were extremely surprised to learn from our data that what was once considered genetic 'junk', namely ancient retroviruses that were thought to just parasite the genome, are in reality symbiotic elements that work closely with other genes to maintain iPS and ES cells in their undifferentiated state.
This is quite different from the image given by textbooks that these genomic elements are junk," explains Dr. Piero Carninci, senior investigator of the study.
The study was funded by a JSPS (Japan Society for Promotion of Science) grant for Next Generation World-Leading Researchers.
Jens Wilkinson | Eurek Alert!
The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences