The ironic aphorism "You are what you eat" has become a reality. The microRNAs of plants that we eat every day accumulate in our blood and tissues and regulate the expression of our genes
Researchers at Nanjing University in China have found that RNA strands from common vegetables - such as rice or cabbage - remain in the blood and tissues of humans and animals after they are eaten, and alter the expression of our genes as soon as they enter the body.
Gene expression is the process by which hereditary information from a gene (DNA nucleotide sequence) is converted into a functional product - RNA or protein.
MicroRNAs are extremely small strands of RNA that selectively bind to the corresponding RNA sequence, resulting in the suppression of these genes. Scientists have finally understood their role only in the last decade, and it is now believed that microRNAs take part in a huge number of processes in animals and plants.
Chen-Yu Zhang and his colleagues have discovered a number of microRNA sequences in the tissues of animals that consume these plants. One of them, called MIR168a, is found in rice and was found in the blood of the Chinese, giving rise to this sensational study.
After experiments, it turned out that MIR168a is able to influence gene expression in mice, suppressing the liver's ability to filter out "bad cholesterol" - the so-called class of low density lipoproteins, which is one of the main carriers of cholesterol in the blood.
This discovery makes possible the implementation of a completely new mechanism of physiological interaction for medicine, and will also help explain processes that have remained unclear to scientists until now.
MicroRNAs are also used in crop genetic engineering.
While scientists have yet to figure out the mechanisms by which plant microRNAs can regulate gene expression in humans and animals, these early results are already increasing understanding of how specific food ingredients can regulate disease.
The study found a response in the global scientific community and was published in the journal Cell Research.