Researchers from University of Missouri have said that bread mould could play a vital role in destroying genes that cause diseases.
Lead researcher Patrick Shiu, assistant professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science has found a mechanism in the reproductive cycle of a certain species of mould that may protect the organism from genetic abnormalities by "silencing" unmatched genes during meiosis or sexual reproduction.
"Meiotic silencing also occurs in worms, mice and human beings," said Shiu.
"It's unlikely that all share the same mechanism, but the principle of targeting unpaired DNA for silencing seems to be found in both simple and complex organisms.
"Knowing the process of how DNA in moulds is targeted for silencing could be important for silencing genes you don't want to be expressed, like disease-causing genes," he added.
The researchers believe that their new findings have implications for higher organisms and may lead to precise "targeting" of unwanted genes, such as those from the HIV virus.
The study found that each sexual cell in mould has an internal mechanism that "scans" paired chromosomes for anomalies.
When one chromosome in a pair carries an extra copy of a gene not found in its partner chromosome, it is a good indication of an intruder and the fungus will "turn off" all copies of that gene during meiosis. The researchers call this process 'meiotic silencing by unpaired DNA' or MSUD.
"MSUD defends the fungus against invasion at a time when chromosomes are especially vulnerable to the spread of viruses and insertion sequences," said Shiu.
The study was published in the journal Fungal Genetics and Biology.