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!
Mental Disorders and Physical Diseases Co-occur in Teenagers
08.04.2015 | Universität Basel
Researchers observe major hand hygiene problems in operating rooms
30.03.2015 | University of Gothenburg
Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy
Astronomers from Chalmers University of Technology have used the giant telescope Alma to reveal an extremely powerful magnetic field very close to a...
A team of physicists from MPQ, Caltech, and ICFO proposes the combination of nano-photonics with ultracold atoms for simulating quantum many-body systems and creating new states of matter.
Ultracold atoms in the so-called optical lattices, that are generated by crosswise superposition of laser beams, have been proven to be one of the most...
According to new research out of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, that is indeed the case. Chetan Jinadatha, M.D., M.P.H., assistant...
Researchers from ICFO, MIT and UC Riverside have been able to develop a graphene-based photodetector capable of converting absorbed light into an electrical voltage at ultrafast timescales
The efficient conversion of light into electricity plays a crucial role in many technologies, ranging from cameras to solar cells.
Electrical charges not only move through wires, they also travel along lengths of DNA, the molecule of life. The property is known as charge transport.
In a new study appearing in the journal Nature Chemistry, authors, Limin Xiang, Julio Palma, Christopher Bruot and others at Arizona State University's...
13.04.2015 | Event News
25.03.2015 | Event News
19.03.2015 | Event News
17.04.2015 | Power and Electrical Engineering
17.04.2015 | Earth Sciences
17.04.2015 | Physics and Astronomy