‘Lifeless’ prions capable of evolutionary change and adaptation
ScienceDaily (Jan. 3, 2010) — Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have determined for the first time that prions, bits of infectious protein devoid of DNA or RNA that can cause fatal neurodegenerative disease, are capable of Darwinian evolution.
The study from Scripps Florida in Jupiter shows that prions can develop large numbers of mutations at the protein level and, through natural selection, these mutations can eventually bring about such evolutionary adaptations as drug resistance, a phenomenon previously known to occur only in bacteria and viruses. These breakthrough findings also suggest that the normal prion protein — which occurs naturally in human cells — may prove to be a more effective therapeutic target than its abnormal toxic relation.
The study was published in the December 31, 2009 issue of the journal Science Express, an advance, online edition of the journal Science.
“On the face of it, you have exactly the same process of mutation and adaptive change in prions as you see in viruses,” said Charles Weissmann, M.D., Ph.D., the head of Scripps Florida’s Department of Infectology, who led the study. “This means that this pattern of Darwinian evolution appears to be universally active. In viruses, mutation is linked to changes in nucleic acid sequence that leads to resistance. Now, this adaptability has moved one level down — to prions and protein folding — and it’s clear that you do not need nucleic acid for the process of evolution.”
The Scripps Research study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and by a generous donation to the Weissmann laboratory from the Alafi Family Foundation.
–For the entire article, click below.
- Li et al. Darwinian Evolution of Prions in Cell Culture. Science, 2009; DOI: 10.1126/science.1183218