Protein creation is essential to the normal function of healthy cells. Proteins help communicate key information to various parts of the cell. All proteins are formed from DNA, or the general blueprint the cell uses to create proteins. In order to create proteins from the DNA, RNA is produced. In this context, RNA functions as a copy of the DNA that can be used to help the cell function.
In certain land plants, in particular, DNA is stored in three locations: the nucleus, mitochondria, and chloroplasts. The process of creating RNA from DNA, however, is not perfect. Inevitably, mistakes do occur, leading to the incorrect production of proteins (or no production of them at all). In fact, mutations can accumulate in the DNA itself over time, leading to the incorrect production of RNA. So what do plants do?
The moss Physcomitrium patens, specifically, has an editing strategy to help clean up these mutations, though the editing takes place in each individual strand of RNA that’s produced. So rather than editing the master copy (DNA), the moss edits each copy (RNA). Researchers speculate that this may have been an evolutionary response as plants moved from sea to land.
With a particular focus on how this moss edits RNA, a team of researchers at the University of Bonn have harnessed the RNA editing processes of Physcomitrium patens and transplanted them into human cells. Their work is described in a recent article published in Nucleic Acids Research.
Specifically, the team transplanted the editing processes into kidney and cancer cells, and found that this machinery also worked in human cells, but with some of its own quirks. For example, certain editing processes located exclusively in the mitochondria of the moss’ cells impacted RNA transcript in human cell nuclei. In fact, the editing machinery impacts about 900 different targets in the human cell, compared to two targets in the moss cells.
At this point, it’s still impossible to detect where these editing mechanisms will strike next.
So what does all this mean?
Given how many targets these editing mechanisms can affect in human cells, there’s a need to better study these mechanisms and better understand how they work. Doing so could help researchers use these editing processes more precisely, potentially even leading towards treatment for certain hereditary diseases.