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Posted: Jan 30, 2014
Biochemist develops new form of synthetic nucleic acid molecule
(Nanowerk News) The biochemist Professor Volker A. Erdmann at Freie Universitšt Berlin succeeded for the first time in creating mirror-image enzymes - so-called Spiegelzymes - out of nucleic acids. The Spiegelzymes can be used in living cells for the targeted cutting of natural nucleic acids. In an article published in PLOS ONE ("Mirror-Image Hammerhead Ribozymes and Mirror-Image DNAzymes, an alternative to siRNAs and microRNAs to cleave mRNAs in vivo?"), a prestigious online journal issued by the Public Library of Science, Erdmann and his co-authors delineate how engineered Spiegelzymes have great potential for cutting up individual nucleic acids responsible for human diseases, and thus "deactivating" them. According to Erdmann Spiegelzymes, also called molecular scissors, have the advantage that they do not trigger side reactions of the immune system and they are extremely stable.
In the experiments Erdmann and his team were able to show that with specially constructed Spiegelzymes the production of a green glowing protein could be inhibited in the cells. The Spiegelzymes cut the messenger RNA, the molecule responsible for the production of the protein. Following similar procedures, it should be possible to prevent the synthesis of any one of the approximately 21,000 proteins anchored in the human genome, says Erdmann.
Volker A. Erdmann thinks it is plausible that in the future it will be possible to intervene in the processes of a cell to selectively cut RNA molecules that regulate the synthesis of proteins and other nucleic acids. Since RNA molecules are responsible for ensuring that a stem cell develops into a skin cell or muscle cell, or even a tumor cell, the targeted use of Spiegelzymes shows promise for completely new applications in basic research, biotechnology, and molecular medicine.
About V.A. Erdmann
For more than 45 years Volker A. Erdmann, a biochemist and molecular biologist and winner of a Leibniz Prize, the most important research award in Germany, has been researching the structure and function of ribonucleic acids (RNA molecules), which have an important role in the conversion of genetic information in proteins.
In 1998 Erdmann founded the Berlin Network for RNA Technologies that until 2009 received 60 million euros in funding from the Berlin government and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as well as from partners in industry. "I was very fortunate to receive a kidney transplant in 2005, which made it possible for me to continue my research," says Erdmann. In 2013, together with private investors, he founded a project support group for the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as well as his own company, Erdmann Technologies GmbH. The latter was founded with support from profund, Freie Universitšt Berlin's company start-up support service.