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December 15, 2017

094 – Bioactive Small RNAs (and the cool paper that wasn’t)

Back in 2012 a paper rocked the scientific community.  The claim was that small RNA molecules in dietary plant products could escape digestion, move through the bloodstream, and cause regulatory changes in animal physiology.  The concept was that the food we ate could change gene expression in new, unexpected ways.  For those of us studying the literature this was a great breakthrough that seemed impossible– but we all desperately wanted it to be true.  It would open a new area of science and great new avenues of inquiry– possibly even changing the way we approached human disease.

But as time moved along our hopes faded.  Papers were published suggesting that the results were artifacts, more icons of potentially sloppy lab practices than revolutionary results.  This week’s guest is Dr. Ken Witwer from Johns Hopkins University.  We sat down and waxed fondly on the 2012 paper and how it has failed to live up to the hypothesis it presented.  The episode of the podcast covers RNAi, how it works, and how this proposed mechanism was plausible but unlikely, along with the data that support/do not support it.

The punch line is that no matter how much we want new science to be true, rigorous analysis usually sorts out reality from fiction.

Dr. Ken Witwer’s Twitter:  @KennethWWitwer

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3 Comments on 094 – Bioactive Small RNAs (and the cool paper that wasn’t)

  1. I eagerly await the big follow-up article from The Atlantic that will put everyone’s mind at ease and explain that the original massive coverage they gave this, Ari LeVaux’s “A Potential Danger of Genetic Modification” was completely bogus.

    I know how much the media likes to un-scare people, right?

    • We need to push for that, and corrections to all DOA papers. I’m working on one, hopefully it will go somewhere good.

      • It turns out it’s even worse that I thought–yesterday Ari LeVaux told me that textbooks had reprinted his piece! Egads.

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