UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Genetic traces of viruses that infect organisms of human ancestors millions of years ago can help the immune system of modern humans identify and destroy cancer cells, according to researchers at the Francis Crick Biomedical Institute. The work of scientists is published in the journal Genome Research.
The human genome consists of about eight percent of the DNA of endogenous retroviruses.
These sequences remaining after infection are usually at rest, do not function, or are suppressed by the body. However, these suppression mechanisms may not work when the cell becomes cancerous. Then the “ancient” viral DNA can be activated again.
“We were looking for viral DNA, which is activated by cancer and becomes visible to the immune system. Then immunity can be” trained “to selectively infect cancer cells,” the Medical Xpress quotes the leader of the group of British geneticists, Dr. George Kassiotis.
Genes contain “instructions” for the production of proteins that are important for the functioning of a cell or the whole body. Before the appearance of a protein, this information is “translated” in RNA molecules.
The process of “translation” itself can be influenced by factors external to the gene. Among them may be the DNA of endogenous retroviruses.
To evaluate their impact, scientists analyzed samples of 31 types of cancer using RNA Seq technology, which allows you to “read” short, random RNA fragments. Each such “reading” as a result gives a small part of the overall sequence, and in order to get a detailed picture of the “translation”, more than 50 million attempts would have to be made.
Genetics compared this to reading a magazine text torn into millions of pieces. Moreover, what it is written in or in what language is written, scientists do not know.
It was possible to connect these randomly distributed RNA fragments — almost 40 billion parts from 769 samples — with the help of specialists from the computer cluster of the institute.
The result was a catalog of 130 thousand “transcriptions” produced by endogenous retroviruses. Of these, more than half were not previously known, and six thousand were found in cancer cells and unhealthy tissue.
As a result, scientists were able to detect 14 “transcriptions” typical of melanoma from eight different parts of the genome that is capable of producing tumor antigens.
After mass spectral analysis, their number was reduced to nine unique peptides visible to the immune system. If they “teach” the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells with their help, a new therapy for cancer patients may appear, experts say.
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