Monday, October 13, 2014

RNA Interference. Again.


Five years ago, I extolled the virtues of teaching a little bit about RNA interference (RNAi) in undergraduate A&P courses.  But for a while it looked like the promise of RNAi in basic and clinical research might be sputtering.  However, a recent article by Eric Bender called The Second Coming of RNAi shows that RNAi "the gene-silencing technique [now] begins to fulfill some of its promises."

I recommend reading the entire article at my-ap.us/1BbxvB9  Before you read it, allow me to reprise my reasons of five years ago supporting my proposal to include RNAi in your course.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?


  • RNAi plays a role in defending our cells against viruses by stopping viral genetic code from being translated in host cells

  • RNAi likely plays a role in regulating gene activity in a cell by preventing translation of the gene product(s)

  • RNAi is increasingly used as method for "knocking out" a particular gene's effects in research animals in order to study the gene's functions

  • RNAi is being used to treat genetic disease. . . an application that will likely expand greatly over the next few decades
I'll add two more items to my previous list:
  • RNA interference is a mechanism of human disease, as has been demonstrated in some cases of inherited progressive hearing loss (for example).

  • Learning about RNAi helps clarify a general understanding of the many roles played by RNA in our lives—some perhaps still undiscovered.

I'm not sure that it's useful to expect beginning undergraduate students to learn the nitty-gritty details of RNAi mechanisms.  But I do think it's valuable to be exposed to the general concept of RNA interference and gene silencing.  A&P students are going to run up against these eventually as they learn about and then administer RNAi-based therapies, after all.  And perhaps we should prepare them.

Want to know more?


The Second Coming of RNAi
  • Eric Bender. The Scientist. September 1, 2014
  • Article mentioned above. In plain English, it shows that clinical progress in RNAi therapy against liver diseases, the gene-silencing technique begins to fulfill some of its promises. Includes useful illustrations and links to other resources.
  • my-ap.us/1BbxvB9

Why do we need to know about RNA interference?
  • Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. 14 April 2009
  • My first article promoting the idea of teaching RNAi in the A&P course.  It links to an expanded article with additional teaching resources.
  • my-ap.us/1xbq4v6

RNA interference revisited
  • Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. 9 June 2009
  • Brief follow-up article that references the role of RNA interference as a mechanism of human disease.  Links to other resources.
  • my-ap.us/1oDflzw

RNA Interference Animation and Slideshow
  • Nature Reviews Genetics. Accessed 3 September 2014
  • FREE animation, slideshow, and poster on RNAi, as well as a link to more details.
  • my-ap.us/1roNGYm

RNA Interference BioInteractive
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Accessed 3 September 2014
  • FREE slideshow with worksheet that students fill out as they view the slideshow.  Links to FREE DVD from HMMI called The Double Life of RNA.
  • my-ap.us/1pJ9r5V


2 comments:

Alex said...

Yes, interesting - but when? How can you meaningfully introduce this w/o it being lost in the avalanche of info that is A&P?

Kevin Patton said...

Good point, Alex, regarding the overwhelming number of terms and concepts in A&P. My approach is to mention RNA interference and gene silencing only very briefly and simply when discussing the role of genes in protein synthesis. As I stated in the blog post, I don't think the details are what matter at this point--just the general idea of it. Even so, we do always need to work hard to help keep our students from getting lost in the avalanche.

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