2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded for discoveries made in research using Caenorhabditis elegans.
Award honors work in RNA interference – gene silencing by double-stranded RNA

The  Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2006 is awarded to Andrew Fire, PhD, of Stanford University School of Medicine, and Craig C. Mello, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, for their discoveries related to RNA interference.

Fire, Mello and colleagues discovered that certain RNA molecules could be used to turn off specific genes in animal cells. The silencing process—called RNA interference, or RNAi — has become a widespread research tool. Their findings were published  in Nature in 1998. In their experiments, the scientists silenced silence an individual gene in Caenorhabditis elegans by injecting a double-stranded version of its messenger RNA. This “RNA silencing” has since been shown to work in nearly every animal cell.

Here is the abstract of their 1998 paper:

Fire A, Xu SQ, Montgomery MK, Kostas SA, Driver SE, Mello CC. 1998 Potent and specific genetic interference by double-stranded RNA in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature 391: 806-811.
Abstract: Experimental introduction of RNA into cells can be used in certain biological systems to interfere with function of an endogenous gene. Such effects have been proposed io result from a simple antisense mechanism that depends on hybridization between the injected RNA and endogenous messenger RNA transcripts, RNA interference has been used in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to manipulate gene expression. Here we investigate the requirements for structure and delivery of the interfering RNA. To our surprise, we found that double-stranded RNA was substantially more effective at producing interference than was either strand individually. After injection into adult animals, purified single strands had at most a modest effect, whereas double-stranded mixtures caused potent and specific interference. The effects of this interference were evident in bath the injected animals and their progeny. Only a few molecules of injected double-stranded RNA were required per affected cell, arguing against stochiometric interference with endogenous mRNA and suggesting that there could be a catalytic or amplification component in the interference process.

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