Reading is passing the eyes through writing identifying words. Deciphering means going further. For example, the beginning of don quixote, “In a place in La Mancha…”, hides more information than it seems. A philologist would know that the place name La Mancha probably comes from Arabic Manya, “high ground”. The phrase “a place in La Mancha” already places the reader in a vast plain that was once conquered by the Arabs. The same is true of the human genome. Each cell, whether it is a muscle cell in the heart or a neuron in the brain, contains within it a text of more than 3,000 million chemical letters, the instructions necessary for its operation. 8% of this manual is written millions of years ago by some unlikely authors: viruses that infect humans or their ancestors embed viral genetic material in their DNA. Now a new study suggests that the resurgence of these remnants of old viruses plays “a fundamental role in aging,” according to study co-author scientist Juan Carlos Izpisua.
Izipisua was born exactly 62 years ago in Helin (Albacete) in Castilla-La Mancha, but today lives in the US city of San Diego. There he directs one of the three institutes of Laboratorio Altos, a multinational company born last year with an astonishing budget of 2,700 million euros, with four Nobel laureates on its payroll and trying to make humans live for many more years. With health with the stated objective of doing. Izpisua is awesome. “It is clear that many of these sequences [de virus integradas en el ADN humano] They begin to grow out of control throughout our lives and are associated with most diseases: cancer, neurodegenerative, cartilage, muscle”, the scientist warns.
These remnants of previous viruses are called endogenous retroviruses. The authors of the new work focused on the last virus to be incorporated into human DNA less than a million years ago: HERV-K (HML2). Researchers have observed – in monkey organs and human tissue – that this true genetic fossil can be reactivated, creating retrovirus-like particles within cells responsible for aging and cancer. These particles, the authors caution, transmit messages that reach other young cells and cause them to age, according to their experiments with cells in the lab. New work is published in the special magazine this Friday the cell,
Izpisua believes that suppressing these harmful radicals “may help improve the course of many diseases and promote healthy aging.” The scientists propose a procedure already used in hospitals: plasmapheresis, in which an external machine filters a patient’s blood to remove harmful substances. “The blood of an elderly or ill person will pass through a barrier filter with antibodies, which will eliminate particles of the organism. Obviously this will improve, I believe. Such applications are relatively easy and are already in the clinic.” That’s why we’re very excited,” Izipisua says by videoconference from San Diego.
The main known promoter of High Labs is Yuri Milner, a Russian-Israeli physicist who became a billionaire initially by participating in Facebook and Twitter. He is ranked 309th in the list of the world’s richest people prepared by the magazine. forbes, with about 7,000 million euros. One of the financiers is Robert Nelson, an American biologist who owns a fortune thanks to his investments in successful biotechnological companies. Izpesua denies that tycoon Jeff Bezos is also behind Altos, as published by the magazine MIT Technology Review,
The new multinational has recruited some of the world’s most distinguished scientists, including two of the last Nobel Prize winners in chemistry: American Jennifer Doudna, who developed the CRISPR technique for editing human DNA, and Frances Arnold, who Laboratorios Altos has also hired half a dozen Spaniards to create a newly invented molecule. The latest biologist to join was Pura Muñoz Canoves, a professor at Pompeu Fabra University who last year received a national research prize in Spain. In the new study, Izipisua and his colleague Concepcion Rodríguez—who is also married—collaborated with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences led by aging expert Liu Guanghui.
Izpisua explains the purpose of his company. “In medicine, until now, what we have done is to identify the cause of the problem and try to solve it. For example, correcting a mutation in a gene so that there is no disease”, he highlights. “What Altos is trying to do is improve the resilience of our cells. This is a very different way of understanding medicine”, says the researcher. Izpisua defended that disease is a process of cellular degradation and that the mechanism is reversible. In his opinion, within two decades there will be cell rejuvenation devices.
The American geneticist Barbara McClintock was, in the year 1950, to the general disbelief of her colleagues, the first person to realize that there were jumping genes. McClintock, born in 1902, faced merciless criticism as being masculinized, but ended up winning the 1983 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of these mobile genetic elements, also known as 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 were out of control in almost all cells. We reduced their activity and it was as if we had given the mice a magic potion, because they lived longer, up to 30% longer, And all their cells work better,” Izpisua says. “It is one of the interventions that has most extended a mammal’s life.”
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