Using rooster testes to learn how the body fights viruses

April 27, 2017, University of Rochester Medical Center
Our bodies are constantly under siege by foreign invaders; viruses, bacteria and parasites that want to infiltrate our cells. Using rooster testes, scientists shed light on how germ cells -- sperm and egg -- protect themselves from viruses so that they can pass accurate genetic information to the next generation. The findings could help researchers better fight viruses in chickens and in people. Credit: University of Rochester Medical Center

Our bodies are constantly under siege by foreign invaders; viruses, bacteria and parasites that want to infiltrate our cells. A new study in the journal eLife sheds light on how germ cells - sperm and egg - protect themselves from these attackers so that they can pass accurate genetic information to the next generation.

Researchers from the University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics examined the role of piRNA in safeguarding the integrity of the genetic information in . It's known that piRNA—a type of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that's found most readily in the testes and ovaries—shields germ by silencing the genetic sequences of viral intruders. It's also known that defects or mutations in piRNA lead to infertility in humans and other animals. What's not known is how piRNAs are generated in the first place.

A team led by Xin Li, Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Urology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, analyzed rooster testes to find out.

Chickens acquire and harbor a wide variety of viruses. When a virus infects a host, like a , it does everything it can to survive. One method of survival is inserting its into the chicken's genome. Over generations, the inserted virus accumulates mutations and eventually becomes harmless to the animal, but it's still a part of the chicken's genetic material.

Li's team focused on avian leukosis virus, which commonly infects and can lead to cancer in domestic chickens. Through molecular and genetic analysis, they discovered that chickens turn these old, existing viruses into piRNA-producing machines. When faced with a new avian leucosis virus (there are many different viruses in the family), the old viruses pump out piRNAs that defend the germ cells, ensuring the passage of intact genetic material to the next round of offspring.

"Our study shows how a host can turn a into a weapon to fight future viruses," says Li, whose work is partially funded by a National Institute of Health grant designed to support the early careers of new scientists. "Better understanding piRNA may help us target more viruses, both in chickens and in people."

In the United States, 8 billion domestic chickens are consumed each year, and more knowledge of how these birds defend themselves against viral infections could increase the productivity of the poultry industry around the world. Because other viruses trapped in the chicken's genetic code are related to similar in humans, future discoveries in this area could help guide research benefiting human health, too.

Explore further: Researchers develop mouse that could provide advance warning of next flu pandemic

More information: Yu Huining Sun et al. Domestic chickens activate a piRNA defense against avian leukosis virus, eLife (2017). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.24695

Related Stories

Bird flu found at Tyson Foods chicken supplier

March 6, 2017

Tens of thousands of chickens have been destroyed at a Tennessee chicken farm due to a bird flu outbreak, and 30 other farms within a six-mile radius have been quarantined.

Recommended for you

How birds and insects reacted to the solar eclipse

November 14, 2018

A team of researchers with Cornell University and the University of Oxford has found that birds and insects reacted in some surprising ways to the 2017 U.S. total solar eclipse. In their paper published in the journal Biology ...

Symbiosis a driver of truffle diversity

November 14, 2018

While the sight of black or white truffle being shaved over on pasta is generally considered a sign of dining extravagance, they play an important role in soil ecosystem services. Truffles are the fruiting bodies of the ectomycorrhizal ...

Gene-edited food is coming, but will shoppers buy?

November 14, 2018

The next generation of biotech food is headed for the grocery aisles, and first up may be salad dressings or granola bars made with soybean oil genetically tweaked to be good for your heart.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

betterexists
not rated yet Apr 27, 2017
IMMUNITY that has Evaded Men. HUMUS Must Be Really ASHAMED of Animals; We Cook Our Food. Earthworms Engulf Soil to get their Nutrients. Pet Chicken/Roosters Stick their Beaks Every Second INTO The Soil To Get Their Food Outdoors. Look At Their GREAT Eyes, IMMUNITY...Everything! Bats CAN Fly Among Hanging Electric Wires EVEN AFTER Removal of Their Eyes. So Many Pets CAN SWIM Even WITHOUT Training Classes. So, We Have to be Ashamed...Not Proud of Our WEAK Bodies...Quoting Always The Size of Cerebrum!
betterexists
not rated yet Apr 27, 2017
So, We Have to be Ashamed...Not Proud of Our WEAK Bodies...Quoting Always The Size of Cerebrum!
So, Brain OR No Brain Doesn't matter: "Eva Young was born without a brain earlier this month. Her parents decided to carry her to term to donate her organs and save other babies' lives".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.