What’s that you ask? What’s shRNA and what does it do? The short answer is that it’s an artificial piece of RNA that’s used to silence gene expression by cutting mRNA. Basically, stopping the instructions of protein-making from getting to the protein-making machine (the ribosome, in case you were wondering what this machine is called). Sounds simple enough, right? For the moment, yes. But now that you know what shRNA is, you will come up with more questions. For example, if it’s artificial, how does it get into the cell? And why would we want to silence gene expression? Who uses shRNA and in what situations? Good thing you’re reading this newsletter, because we’re going to answer all those questions for you today!
shRNA Delivery Mechanism
What’s the best way to get foreign genetic material into a cell? Why, by nature’s very own design – a virus. Adenoviruses, lentiviruses, and adeno-associated viruses make great microscopic vehicles to send shRNA into the nucleus with the help of reverse transcriptase. One thing researchers have to be careful about using viral vectors is the possibility of causing cancers. Depending on where the viral DNA is inserted into our genome, sometimes things can go very very wrong. More recently, scientists have discovered that bacteria, specifically E. coli, can make this transfer as well!
Why Silence Genes?
When genes are working properly, life is pretty much hunky-dory. It’s not until something goes wrong that we realize just how important properly working genes and gene expression is. One of the most promising uses of shRNA is to create customized cancer therapies for patients. Instead of using chemotherapy drugs that flood the body with toxins in the hopes that it kills the cancer cells faster than it does our own cells, targeted therapy means that only the cells we want to kill are killed. And since there can be different mutations for the same kind of cancer, getting to the root of what genes are causing the cells to grow out of the control is something that shRNA can do.
Own Some shRNA
While a gift of real shRNA is probably not something that would make it to your wishlist, an shRNA necklace from us might! We even have it in two versions, a horizontal and vertical one. If you enjoyed this week’s story about this powerful little piece of nucleic acid, then head to our online store to get yourself a short hairpin RNA! Buy it for yourself or for a friend. It also makes a great gift for oncologists, cancer researchers, cancer survivors, and starry-eyed pre-med students.
written by Science with Evie