This article describes the discovery of RNA-activated sequence-specific RNA degradation, a phenomenon now referred to as RNA silencing or RNA interference (RNAi). From 1992 to 1996, a series of articles were published on virus resistant transgenic plants expressing either translatable or nontranslatable versions of the coat protein gene of (TEV). Certain transgenic plant lines were resistant to TEV but not to closely related viruses. In these plants a surprising correlation was observed: Transgenic plant lines with the highest degree of TEV resistance had actively transcribed transgenes but low steady-state levels of transgene RNA. Molecular analysis of these transgenic plants demonstrated the existence of a cellular-based, sequence-specific, posttranscriptional RNA-degradation system that was programmed by the transgene-encoded RNA sequence. This RNA-degradation activity specifically targeted both the transgene RNA and TEV (viral) RNA for degradation and was the first description of RNA-mediated gene silencing.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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