Some of these proteins "remember" the RNA's code and destroy future copies of the associated single-stranded mRNA as well.
"This method has already become an important research tool in biology and biomedicine," according to the Karolinska Institute. "In the future, it is hoped that it will be used in many disciplines, including clinical medicine and agriculture."
Biologists now routinely use the technique to explore gene pathways, and scientists have successfully inactivated genes in humans and lab animals.
This discovery "gives people a method to silence particular genes and look and see what happens, so they can identify what each gene does," said David Bartel, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
"Researchers have done this for most genes in the worm, and for most genes in human cells in culture as well."
Researchers also hope that RNA interference can silence damaged or dangerous genes that cause cancer, heart diseases, infections, and other conditions. (Related: "New DNA Mapping Project to Trace Genetic Ills" [October 2005].)
It's "just really, really exciting how many different fields, seemingly unrelated, have just merged together with the understanding of the mechanism," Mello said in an interview with the Nobel Foundation.
"As the understanding grows, we just seem to be bringing together these very distant-looking, sort-of-unrelated looking stories ... [they] just keep coming together and unfolding in beautiful ways."
"I am very honored that our work has received such positive attention," Fire said in a statement released by the Washington, D.C.-based Carnegie Institution, where he performed the RNA interference research.
"Science is a group effort. Please recognize that the recent progress in the field of RNA-based gene silencing has involved original scientific inquiry from research groups around the world," he continued.
"Any prize recognition should go to the many scientists who have made individual contributions, and to the spirit of scientific community that has allowed information and ideas to flow freely."
Update: October 4, 2006
On Tuesday U.S. scientists John C. Mather and George F. Smoot were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research helping to solidify the big bang theory of the origin of the universe.
And on Wednesday U.S. biologist Roger D. Kornberg won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for helping to unravel how cells make proteins using genetic information.
Free Email News Updates
Best Online Newsletter, 2006 Codie Awards
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES