– What You Eat Affects Your Genes: RNA from Rice Can Survive Digestion and Alter Gene Expression (Discover Magazine, September 21st, 2011):
What’s the News: It’s no secret that having lunch messes with your biochemistry. Once that sandwich hits your stomach, genes related to digestion have been activated and are causing the production of the many molecules that help break food down. But a new study suggests that the connection between your food’s biochemistry and your own may be more intimate than we thought. Tiny RNAs usually found plants have been discovered circulating in blood, and animal studies indicate that they are directly manipulating the expression of genes.
What’s the Context:
- MicroRNAs, or miRNAs, are molecules involved in regulation of gene expression, the transcription of genes into proteins. miRNAs bind to the messenger RNAs that ferry genetic information from DNA to the ribosomes, which translate messenger RNAs into proteins.
- When a miRNA binds a messenger RNA, it keeps it from being translated, thus preventing that gene from being expressed.
How the Heck:
- This team of researchers at Nanjing University had been studying the miRNAs that circulate in human blood and were surprised to find that some of the miRNAs weren’t homegrown but instead came from plants. One of the most common plant miRNAs was from rice, a staple of their Chinese subjects’ diets. Intrigued, they confirmed with a variety of tests in mice that the miRNA, which, in its native environs, usually regulates plant development, was definitely coming from food.