BOSTON, Aug. 13 (GenomeWeb News) - RNA interference innovator Craig Mello of UMass Medical School was honored here today along with his collaborator Andy Fire of the Carnegie Institute of Washington with an award from Aventis for their studies on the gene silencing technique.
Displaying a slide depicting Alfred E. Neumann leaping from one rock ledge labeled "sequence" to another
labeled "function," Mello said in his acceptance speech that RNAi came along at just the right time to help bridge the chasm that exists between the two areas. Aventis made the award during the Drug Discovery Technology convention to the duo, who published what is considered the seminal paper on
RNAi in Nature in 1998.
Noting that the human genome, "a set of instructions for making a complicated organism work," has remained stable through evolution in spite of an onslaught of parasitic sequences including viruses such as HIV, or
small mobile genetic elements such as transposons, Mello suggested that possibly there are "remarkable mechanisms" built in to protect the genome. RNA interference might be just one of many that organisms use to protect themselves from parasitic nucleic acid sequences, he said.
Mello went on to describe studies that he, Fire, and colleagues have conducted showing inheritance of double-stranded RNAs over three generations of C. elegans, as well as studies exhibiting how maintenance of the germline is necessary to inheritance of the silencing sequences. In experiments
where sterility was induced, the silencing effect was not transmitted to subsequent generations, he said, indicating that "inheritance mechanisms are probably very important to the organism for [silencing] effects."
When asked for his outlook on RNAi therapeutics, Mello said he is encouraged by recent studies in mice and that it would be "reasonable to expect potential therapies in the near future."
Accepting the Aventis award on behalf of Fire, who was not present, Mello said the two had donated their award to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to help find a cure for type-1 diabetes.