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Understanding the Role of RNA-binding Proteins in Virus Infection

Celie Hanson

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Understanding the Role of RNA-binding Proteins in Virus Infection

About Dr. Alfredo Castello and this TKS episode:

Dr. Alfredo Castello is a Senior Lecturer at MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. He is also a Visiting Academic at Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford. Alfredo is the principle investigator of the Castello Lab, and in this episode of The Know Show Podcast we elucidate how cellular RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) control virus infection, why millions of people die every year due to RNA viruses, and how to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that underpin virus infection.

 

A brief synopsis:

Alfredo starts describing his passion for biochemistry and how he was inspired by his grandfather, whose love for science helped him develop his fascinating career in biochemistry. Now, as principal investigator at the Castello Lab, Alfredo aims to identify which cellular RNA-binding proteins are involved in virus infection.

Alfredo describes the work of the Castello Lab that focusses on developing methodologies that apply to RNA viruses. He then explains what DNA and RNA are, exemplifying that DNA is like a hard drive in a computer, which contains all the information about the cells, while RNA is like the RAM. DNA is stable, while RNA is unstable, and after it generates a protein, it disintegrates—this being a crucial difference between them. Alfredo and Hussain go on to discuss RNA vaccines, which Alfredo explains are a more recent development, and that scientists are still in the process of understanding them better.

It was challenging to figure out how to introduce RNA into our body and produce protein in enough time and quantity to generate an immune response--those were the main concerns about RNA vaccines.

Dr. Alfredo Castello

 

Alfredo demystifies the negative PR aspects of RNA vaccines. Although scientists had to modify the genetic structure of the RNA to make it more stable, he believes the vaccines are reliable and safe. He says that the potential of RNA vaccines lies in their ability to vaccinate against multiple proteins simultaneously. For example, an RNA vaccine against COVID-19 could be efficient against all known variations of the virus we are aware of.

He also talks about the other applications of RNA methods, for example, using RNA cells to treat cases of spinal muscular atrophy.

The advantage of RNA is that you can get high specificity. We talk about complex interactions between bases and amino acids. The question at the moment is how to deliver it efficiently and make it stable. Having more options is better. We have the traditional approaches, but also the new generation methods.

Dr. Alfredo Castello

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TKS take home points:

In this TKS episode, we learn how RNA-binding proteins control virus infection, RNA viruses and vaccines. We are given insight into some of the research on COVID-19 vaccines, and the differences between RNA and DNA. RNA scientific methods are still widely misunderstood. However, Alfredo is working to offer a positive perspective on how we can apply them successfully and develop new and effective antivirals, which will save many lives.

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