Ancient viruses embedded in human DNA encourage and promote aging | Science – Press Releases

Reading means guiding the eye through a script that identifies the words. Deciphering means moving on. For example starting Don Quixote, “In a place in La Mancha…” hides more information than it seems. A philologist will know that the place name La Mancha probably comes from Arabic Many, “plateau”. The very phrase “in a place in La Mancha” transports the reader to a vast plain that was finally conquered by the Arabs. The same applies to the human genome. Each cell, whether it is a muscle cell in the heart or a neuron in the brain, contains a text of more than 3 billion chemical letters with the instructions necessary for its operation. 8% of this manual was written millions of years ago by some unexpected authors: viruses that infected humans or their ancestors and embedded viral genetic material into their DNA. Now, a new study suggests that the resurgence of these relics of ancient viruses “plays a fundamental role in aging,” according to scientist Juan Carlos Izpisua, co-author of the research.

Izpisua was born exactly 62 years ago in a place in Castilla-La Mancha, in Hellín (Albacete), but now lives in the American city of San Diego. There he directs one of the three institutes of Laboratorios Altos, a multinational founded last year with a budget of 2,700 million euros, four Nobel laureates on the payroll and the declared objective of helping people live many more years in health. Izpisua is powerful. “It is clear that many of these sequences [de virus integradas en el ADN humano] They begin to get out of control throughout our lives and are associated with most diseases: cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, cartilage, muscle”, warns the scientist.

These relics of past viruses are called endogenous retroviruses. The authors of the new work have focused on the last virus that was incorporated into human DNA less than a million years ago: HERV-K (HML2). Researchers have observed – in monkey organs and human tissues – that this authentic genetic fossil can be reactivated, causing the formation of retrovirus-like particles inside cells, responsible for aging and cancer. These particles, the authors warn, are a transferable message that reaches other, younger cells and ages them, as their experiments with cells in the laboratory show. The new work will be published this Friday in the specialized magazine cell.

Izpisua believes that suppression of these harmful particles “could improve the course of many diseases and promote healthier aging.” The scientist proposes a procedure that is already used in hospitals: plasmapheresis, in which an external machine filters the patient’s blood to eradicate contaminants. “The blood of the elderly or sick would flow through a blocking filter with antibodies, which would eliminate the particles of the organism. That, of course, would bring an improvement, I am convinced of that. Applications like this are relatively simple and already in the clinic, so we’re very excited,” Izpisua said via video conference from San Diego.

The main known promoter of High Laboratories is Yuri Milner, a Russian-Israeli physicist who became a billionaire through his early involvement with Facebook and Twitter. He is ranked 309th on the magazine’s list of the world’s richest people. Forbes, with around 7,000 million euros. Another financier is the American biologist Robert Nelsen, who has a fortune thanks to his investments in successful biotech companies. Izpisua denies that mogul Jeff Bezos is also behind Altos, reports the magazine MIT Technology Review.

The new multinational has recruited some of the most renowned scientists in the world, including two of the last Nobel laureates in chemistry: the American Jennifer Doudna, who developed the CRISPR technique to edit human DNA, and Frances Arnold, who invented a new way to create molecules in Laboratorios Altos has also hired half a dozen Spaniards. The latest addition was the biologist Pura Muñoz Cánoves, a professor at Pompeu Fabra University, who received the Spanish National Research Award last year. In the new study, Izpisua and her colleague Concepción Rodríguez, who is also married, collaborated with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences led by aging expert Liu Guanghui.

Izpisua explains the objective of his company. “Until now in medicine we have identified the cause of a problem and tried to solve it. For example, fixing the mutation in a gene so that a disease does not occur ”, he reveals. “What Altos is trying to do is improve the resilience of our cells. It is a completely different way of understanding medicine”, affirms the researcher. Izpisua defends that the disease is a process of cellular deterioration and that this mechanism is reversible. In his opinion, within two decades there will be tools for cell rejuvenation.

American geneticist Barbara McClintock, in 1950, was the first person to recognize that jumping genes existed, much to the disbelief of her peers. McClintock, born in 1902, faced relentless criticism, mixed with machismo, but won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of these mobile genetic elements, also called transposons. Endogenous retroviruses are just one example. In August, Izpisua’s team observed in genetically modified mice that other transposons are involved in accelerated aging processes, such as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. “We saw that these DNA sequences ran amok in almost all cells. We lowered their activation and it seemed that we gave the mice a magic potion because they lived longer, up to 30% longer, and all their cells worked better”, says Izpisua. “It is one of the interventions that has extended the life of a mammal the most.”

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Ancient viruses embedded in human DNA encourage and promote aging | Science – Press Releases