The purple sea urchin could help develop cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer, scientists at the University of St Andrews have discovered.
Creatures, such as the sea urchin and sponge, have been discovered to have a special genetic sequence previously only thought to be used by certain viruses.
Now these sea creatures could inform scientists how to produce a therapeutic response in our own cells.
This latest finding builds on the earlier discovery of a short genetic sequence ("2A") caused by viruses which can be used to return cells to a stem-cell like state – allowing them to be manipulated and used for special treatments.
Martin Ryan, professor of translational virology at the University of St Andrews, who has been a key researcher said: "It is now possible to take cells from a patient and drive them back into a stem cell state. These patient-specific stem cells could be used to treat a very wide range of diseases, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, heart disease among others.
"The study of viruses showed us how we could harness this process for biomedicine and biotechnology, and studying these sequences in creatures such as the sea urchin will provide more tools in the fight against disease and for use in biotechnology."
The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council (MRC).