Yale Logo Since decades traits of an individual are considered as the product of the genes. It now seems that a mechanism is also involved in determining traits. Experts from the Yale University have introduced another mechanism that may control variations of traits even in genetically identical individuals. This mechanism can probably enlighten the way ordinary cells like fibroblasts get converted to stem cells and how some cancers develop at random.

A particular type of RNA presumably works in concert with a common protein to guard organisms from harmful genetic variations without the help of genes. Factors other than genes are probably responsible for an organism’s traits, or phenotype. The protein Hsp-90 seems to be involved in mobilizing molecules for responding to stress. It was suspected that Hsp-90 avoids the display of random abnormalities by suppressing the activities of ‘jumping genes.’

Experts believe that in flies a type of small RNA called Piwi-interacting RNA, or piRNA, works in concert with Hsp-90 and another molecule. This process may prevent the creation of variants as well as the activation of existing genetic variants. Even though genes play a role in safeguarding against harmful variations, they may work through actions of the molecules piRNA and Hsp-90. Haifan Lin, director of the Yale Stem Cell Center, professor of cell biology and genetics and senior investigator and colleagues thoroughly assessed piRNAs in reproductive cells and stem cells. Also variations in levels of Hsp-90 and piRNAs among individual cells were monitored. It was asserted that ordinary cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells and harmful mutations apparently lead to certain cancers.

The research was published on December 26 in Nature Genetics.