Πανάρχαιοι ιοί βοηθούν στην καταπολέμηση των σύγχρονων

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Οι ιοί δεν είναι κάτι ξένο, όπως τους θεωρούμε και επικίνδυνο. Αμερικανική έρευνα αποκαλύπτει ότι κουβαλάμε στο DNA μας ουκ ολίγους πανάρχαιους ιούς, που όχι μόνο έχουν πια γίνει ένα με μας, αλλά μας βοηθούν καθοριστικά στο να καταπολεμάμε άλλους σύγχρονους παθογόνους ιούς.

Οι επιστήμονες υπολογίζουν ότι γύρω στο 8% του σημερινού DNA μας έχει προέλευση από αρχαίους ιούς-εισβολείς. Ανάμεσα στα γονίδιά μας, υπάρχουν πάνω από 100.000 τέτοια γενετικά «απολιθώματα» μαχών ανάμεσα στους παλιούς μολυσματικούς μικροοργανισμούς και στους προγόνους μας, τους πιθήκους, πριν δεκάδες εκατομμύρια χρόνια.

Αυτοί οι λεγόμενοι «ενδογενείς ρετροϊοί» (ERVs), που κληρονομούνται από γενιά σε γενιά μαζί με τα ανθρώπινα γονίδια και οι οποίοι είναι πια ακίνδυνοι, έως τώρα αντιμετωπίζονταν μάλλον ως μια βιολογική παραδοξοτότητα χωρίς ιδιαίτερη σημασία. Αλλά η νέα μελέτη ανατρέπει αυτή την εικόνα, καθώς φαίνεται πως, με το πέρασμα του χρόνου, οι άνθρωποι έχουν «εξημερώσει» ορισμένους ιούς και τους χρησιμοποιούν προς όφελός τους.

Έτσι, μέσω των εξελικτικών βιολογικών μηχανισμών, το DNA των ιών γίνεται πλέον «όπλο» για την ενίσχυση του ανθρώπινου ανοσοποιητικού συστήματος. Κάτι ανάλογο είναι πιθανό να έχει συμβεί και σε άλλα θηλαστικά.

Οι ερευνητές της Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου της Γιούτα, με επικεφαλής τον αναπληρωτή καθηγητή ανθρώπινης γενετικής Σέντρικ Φεσκότε, ανακάλυψαν ότι ορισμένα τουλάχιστον τμήματα του DNA των αρχαίων ιών, που έχουν ενσωματωθεί στο ανθρώπινο γονιδίωμα, ρυθμίζουν τη δράση σημαντικών γονιδίων του ανοσοποιητικού συστήματος. Δηλαδή συμβάλλουν καθοριστικά στην άμυνα του ανθρώπινου οργανισμού απέναντι στα μικρόβια και σε άλλους ιούς.

Μάλιστα, όπως έδειξε η νέα έρευνα, αν τμήματα αυτού του ξένου (προερχόμενους από τους ιούς) γενετικού κώδικα αφαιρεθούν με τη νέα ισχυρή τεχνική επεξεργασίας γονιδίων CRISPR/Cas9, τότε όλο το ανθρώπινο αμυντικό σύστημα καταρρέει, καθώς παύουν πια να ενεργοποιούνται ζωτικά γονίδια που πυροδοτούν την αντίδραση του ανοσοποιητικού συστήματος. Όταν όμως -όπως διαπιστώθηκε από τους ερευνητές- το DNA των αρχαίων ιών επιστρέψει στην αρχική θέση του μέσα στο ανθρώπινο γονιδίωμα, τότε αποκαθίσταται η φυσιολογική αμυντική λειτουργία του οργανισμού μας.

«Δείξαμε ότι μερικοί από αυτούς τους ενδογενείς ιούς έχουν διαμορφώσει τη βιολογία μας», δήλωσε ο Φεσκότε, ο οποίος πρόσθεσε ότι θα περάσουν αρκετά χρόνια, έως ότου οι επιστήμονες κατανοήσουν την πλήρη σημασία και συμβολή των αρχαίων ιών στην εξέλιξή μας και στην υγεία μας.

Ορισμένοι επιστήμονες πιστεύουν μάλιστα ότι ένα γονίδιο-κλειδί για τη δημιουργία του πλακούντα στις έγκυες γυναίκες προήλθε από αρχαίο ιό. Με άλλα λόγια, αν δεν υπήρχε κάποτε αυτός ο «εισβολέας», ίσως σήμερα κανείς άνθρωπος να μην είχε γεννηθεί!

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