So, after nearly 50 years of research and development by scientists across the world, hundreds of millions of people around the world now know that there are common common mutations in DNA that all show up in similar ways. Sometimes these mutations are rare, while other times they show up even more often. Your DNA isn’t all that common at all. One is simply a useless speck of water, while the other is a building block of all our cells.
And according to GSK’s Alice Albright and her colleagues, your cells only use this “poor man’s white blood cell” because it does one thing really well, and that is killing viruses. But the way it works is a lot different from how most viruses are programmed to work. Your white blood cells constantly swap out their components and “re-manufacture” themselves to function better in the face of new threats.
In the process, your cells are gradually disrupting the virus-coding code that lets the virus make RNA and proteins, in the process fueling a race for control of these basic structural genes that lets viruses copy their code in a messier way than they ever would before. As people who study the virus-cell interactions take DNA sequencing and grow huge libraries of genetic code fragments, they can now see that this battle is happening in much greater detail and with a greater diversity of species. And it’s happening all over the world.
“There are over 1 million genes in a single human cell,” Albright said. “We’ll be looking at the black rhino and the pigeon, because it’s all the same.”
Why do genes matter?
You might be asking yourself: how does the DNA molecule get so much ink? Well, the story starts with a mutation in the way our genetic code is generated. Right now, most DNA has a section of DNA that consists of just three tau protein building blocks, called BCL13A, ALC13 and ALC13A. But if you replicate that DNA by using conventional means—which we will come back to—it repeats in each cell over and over again.
This kind of repeating DNA looks weird and, in the right circumstances, can cause mutations in a cell. For instance, if your cell undergoes a stressor like a virus, it will give rise to different parts of the DNA, which you can see here. When a virus throws a wrench into the copy function of a biological molecule, it can disrupt not just that part of the molecule, but the entire system and throw everything off its axis. For one disease, a common variant in a gene called SV40 causes sporadic neuromyelitis optica, which is a really rare disease. It doesn’t kill people, but it does make them so disabled that they can’t even leave their homes.