These mollusks can modify their own genetic material – and that could help humans with neurological disorders.
Squids are fascinating animals, right? In addition to having a brain similar to that of dogs and forming a “bubble” of embryos to reproduce, these animals are also able to edit their own DNA. This is what a new study led by researchers at the University of Chicago, in the United States, and published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research points out.
The researchers found that squids edit their own genetic instructions, not only within the nucleus of their neurons but also within the axons, which are the long, thin neural projections that transmit electrical impulses to other neurons. According to the team, this is the first time that edits in the genetic material have been observed outside the nucleus of an animal cell.
According to the scientists, this discovery casts doubt on the central dogma of molecular biology, which states that genetic information is passed faithfully from DNA to messenger RNA to only then be synthesized into proteins. “We thought all the RNA editing happened in the nucleus, and then the modified messenger RNAs are exported out to the cell,” explained Joshua Rosenthal, senior scientist at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biology Laboratory, in a statement.
Because of the research, the scientists found that squids can modify RNAs on the periphery of the cell, that is, outside the nucleus. “This means that, theoretically, they can modify the function of proteins to meet the localized demands of the cell. This gives them a lot of freedom to adapt genetic information as needed,” noted Rosenthal.
The team also demonstrated that messenger RNAs are edited in the axon of the nerve cell at much higher rates than in the nucleus – and this can be interesting for humans, as dysfunctions in that region of the nerve cells are associated with many neurological disorders. With that in mind, the scientists intend to share the findings with biotechnology companies seeking treatments for those suffering from these conditions.