Embryonic stem cell – where all human body cells originated – has a foreign invader plays a crucial role in making it into what it is.
This new research finding shows how this viral invasion on the genes of early humans almost an eon ago plays a role in the evolution of humans. This also helps scientists with their understanding of converting ordinary cells to stem cells which can be used in advanced treatments.
Scientists place their hope on embryonic pluripotent stem cells which has the ability to morph into different cell types, and use this for patients to recover from disease or injuries.
Scientists won’t have to struggle anymore in trying to learn the characteristics of pluripotent cells. This new research revealed that embryonic stem cell from humans is composed that way because of viral materials.
Viruses multiply by invading cells and rewiring it. A retrovirus is a tricky one where it adds it genes to the host cell’s DNA where the cell is misled into recreating the retrovirus. The most known retrovirus is the HIV.
Some retroviruses in rare events infect egg or sperm cells where they pass the retrovirus DNA down to their descendants. The leftovers of the retrovirus from an eon ago are called endogenous retroviruses and compose at least 8% of human genes.
What was believed before as junk in our DNA, one of the classes of endogenous retrovirus called HERV-H was seen to be activating the embryonic stem cells in humans and even works to keep these cells pluripotent.
Scientists experimented on the embryonic stem cells by introducing RNA to suppress HERV-H which resulted in making the cells cease having the characteristics of stem cells.
Researchers are now aiming to further understand HERV-H and how they can apply it to cellular regenerative therapies.
Converting the Invader
The human DNA has more than a thousand copies of HERV-H and is unique only to apes and humans with suggestions of infection of the early primates last 20 million years.
HERV-H is only essential in primates for pluripotency of stem cells. The stem cells of other animals work fine without it.