SYDNEY, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- Mice reportedly have a "jumping gene" which enables their immune systems to fight off viruses, according to a new report from Australian researchers.
The study, published in the journal Nature, offers insights into how the rodent's immune system is protected, which scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) believe could ultimately lead to more effective treatments of patients with serious infections.
Explaining the findings in an online article on Scimex on Thursday, UNSW biomolecular scientist Cecile King said it revealed that a "jumping gene" or transposable element in mice could bolster their immune systems following a viral infection.
King said up to two-thirds of a mammal's chromosomes were composed of such transposable element which can change their position within a genome and in doing so can create or reverse mutations or alter a cell's "genetic identity".
To better understand the role of jumping genes, King's team observed what happened when a single transposable element was removed from a mouse's immune system.
"Then we could ask questions about what transposable element actually do in terms of their function and effect on a complex biological system," she said.
King said the team chose a transposable element near the Schlafen gene family, which are genes known to encourage cell proliferation in response to viruses.
After knocking out one transposable element, called Lx9c11, the researchers infected the mice with a virus that attacks the pancreas. Those animals subsequently died.
King said the results were comparable to people who had suffered from severe COVID-19.
"We found they had increased damage to the pancreas; infiltration of cells into the lung; activation of immune cell subsets; dysregulated blood glucose levels; weight loss and lethality," she said.
But when the team put Lx9c11 back into other still-living mice that had been infected with the virus, they survived.
King said the team next planned to conduct similar tests on other transposable element to identify their specific roles in the body's fight against viruses.
"We think this is going to be a commonly observed phenomenon, that we're going to learn how transposable element similar to Lx9c11 control the expression of gene families throughout the genome," she said.