Several years ago when I was applying to colleges, one of the essays an applicant could write about was what super power the applicant would want. Sounds like a silly, generic essay topic, right? Well, that was the essay topic I chose that got me admission to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

The Problem

I chose manipulating and isolating codons in human genes as my super power. Codons are a sequence of three nucleotides that together form a unit of genetic code in DNA or RNA molecules. Think of nucleotides as letters and codons as 3-letter words of a sentence (gene). My theory was, with this super power, I could  create super humans (mutants) or enlarge certain body parts, e.g., hands. More importantly, this super power could inhibit the expression of disorders and diseases, e.g., breast cancer.

Unfortunately, my desire to be Professor X was all a fantasy and I never got the chance to develop this idea as part of the genome project. Thankfully, some mad scientists at Duke that considered the same idea six years later.

The Solution

Now we have  U.S. Patent No. 9,267,145 (Patent ‘145) which details a method of stopping the expression of a target gene using artificial (man-made) miRNAs.  The miRNA-encoding DNA sequence is introduced into the cells and endogenously transcribed miRNAs induce inhibition of the target gene. Where advantageous, one can place transcription of the miRNA under the control of an inducible promoter or a tissue specific promoter.

How it Works?

What does that all mean? Think of it this way, your cells will produce mini-robots that block certain genes from expressing themselves. These mini-robots know where to go because they are being driven around in a van that stops at specific locations on a messenger RNA (mRNA) strand. The resulting miRNA induces degradation of an mRNA produced in the cell that contains a complementary target sequence or otherwise inhibits translation of the mRNA.

When they reach a specific destination they can now block external or internal stimuli from expressing the gene. These little bots block a gene’s expression by eliminating a codon or changing it. The genes the miRNA inhibits could be for breast cancer, prostate cancer, or even Crohn’s disease.

Special Attributes

You can use miRNA molecules experimentally or therapeutically to inhibit gene function. Furthermore, miRNA can similarly induce the degradation of other types of RNA, including viral RNA. In other words, you can prevent HIV from using your cells to reproduce. While this is nothing like telekinesis, it is still pretty cool to be able to live another day and cut down on medical expenses.

The Wrap Up

So, yeah, I chose Columbia University instead of matriculating to MIT. However, my dream of finding a cure to cancer and other diseases remains. So, although I still can’t eliminate a disease at-will or create the X-men, I still research and develop ways to save lives.

Leave a comment below and tell me what super power you would want.


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Written by ipbanker