Prestigious Scientific Journal Nature Publishes Publication by VU Scientists

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The prestigious science journal Nature has published an article by scientists at Vilnius University (VU) Life Sciences Center “Transposon-associated TnpB is a Programmable RNA-guided DNA Endonuclease”. With this study, VU scientists answered the question of the role of the TnpB protein in the activity of mobile genetic elements and showed that those proteins could be applied in practice as new tools for genome editing.

This is the first time that one of the most respected scientific journals in the world Nature published an article by a team of exclusively Lithuanian scientists. To date, Nature has published publications by thirteen Lithuanian scientists, most of them in collaboration with foreign authors.

Nature publishes only 8% of the proposed articles, and research is selected based on its originality, importance, interdisciplinarity, relevance, accessibility, elegance, and unexpected findings.

According to one of the authors of this publication Prof. Virginijus Šikšnis, the article answers several important questions scientists have long been looking to answer.

“Many, I hope, have heard of the “DNA scissors” used for targeted genome editing. Proteins called “DNA scissors” are commonly associated with CRISPR systems, but so far it has not been clear where they come from. Bioinformatics scientists have predicted that “DNA scissors” may be derived from the TnpB protein, which is linked to mobile genetic elements. To date, however, neither the TnpB function nor the relationship with CRISPR systems has been experimentally demonstrated,” Prof. V. Šikšnys said.

The team of VU scientists showed for the first time that the TnpB protein, linked to mobile genetic elements called transposons, acts as an RNA-programmable nuclease that can cleave DNA, i.e., TnpB acts as “DNA scissors” independent of CRISPR systems. These experiments not only proposed for the first time a possible new function of TnpB in transposition but also experimentally confirmed the hypothesis that the TnpB protein associated with mobile genetic elements is the ancestor of DNA scissors.

“Our study not only answers very general biological questions, such as what is the function of the TnpB protein in the activity of mobile elements of the genome but also establishes that those proteins could be put into practice as new tools for genome editing. These proteins are much smaller than commonly used genome editing tools, which has the advantage of being easier to carry into cells, which is especially important when it comes to treating hereditary genetic diseases,” Prof. V. Šikšnys said.

“This is an important event for all of us, especially for young scientists, as many of them start their careers with a publication in the journal Nature, which is the highest-ranking science journal in the world. I am really glad that all the authors of this publication are from the VU Life Sciences Center, and this once again shows that Lithuanian scientists can successfully compete internationally,” the scientist said.

All the authors of the publication carry out or have carried out activities at the Institute of Biotechnology of the VU Center for Life Sciences: Dr. Tautvydas Karvelis, senior researcher; Gytis Druteika, doctoral student, junior researcher, laboratory assistant; Greta Bigelytė, doctoral student, junior researcher, biologist; Karolina Budrė, former researcher at the Institute of Biotechnology; Rimantė Žedaveinytė, laboratory assistant, biologist; Dr. Arūnas Šilanskas, senior researcher; Dr. Darius Kazlauskas, senior researcher; Dr. Česlovas Venclovas, distinguished professor, chief researcher; Virginijus Šikšnys, distinguished professor, chief researcher.

VU Vice-Rector for Science Prof. Edita Sužiedėlienė states that the publication in the scientific journal Nature is another proof that VU conducts world-class research.

“In recent years, researchers at the VU Life Sciences Center have received a number of prestigious international awards, articles by scientists or teams of scientists working in the center have been published in Science, Cell, Nature groups and other prestigious scientific journals.

This proves that the research carried out by our researchers competes with the research carried out in the best universities and research centers in the world, and the research results and new knowledge are extremely important for the global scientific community,” Prof. E. Sužiedėlienė said.

8 Oct 2021