Small interfering RNA (siRNA), sometimes known as short interfering RNA or silencing RNA, is a class of double-stranded RNA molecules, 20-25 nucleotides in length, that play a variety of roles in biology. Most notably, siRNA is involved in the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, where it interferes with the expression of a specific gene. In addition to their role in the RNAi pathway, siRNAs also act in RNAi-related pathways, e.g., as an antiviral mechanism or in shaping the chromatin structure of a genome; the complexity of these pathways is only now being elucidated.
SiRNAs were first discovered by David Baulcombe's group at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, England, as part of post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) in plants. The group published their findings in Science in a paper titled "A species of small antisense RNA in posttranscriptional gene silencing in plants". Shortly thereafter, in 2001, synthetic siRNAs were shown to be able to induce RNAi in mammalian cells by Thomas Tuschl and colleagues in a paper published in Nature. This discovery led to a surge in interest in harnessing RNAi for biomedical research and drug development.
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