In 1986, a scientist named Richard Jorgenson was attempting to make the world's most dazzling flower - the deepest purple of petunias.
To do this, he added an extra purple-making gene to an already purple petunia.
Sounds logical, right?
But, unexpectedly, after Jorgenson added the extra gene for purple, the petunia turned bright white.
This tiny white petunia caused one of the biggest scientific mysteries in recent history. The world's best and brightest scientists scurried to solve the puzzleŠ
Why does a purple flower turn white when an extra gene for purple is added?
This riddle went unsolved for more than a decade.
Then, in 1998, two scientists, Dr. Craig Mello of University of Massachusetts and Dr. Andrew Fire of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, finally figured it out - putting an end the decade-long puzzle.
When Richard Jorgenson added that extra purple gene to the petunia, he unknowingly activated an ancient defense mechanism that exists in every living cell.
Two scientists - doctors Craig Mello and Andrew Fire - discovered this process in 1998, solving the "great petunia riddle," and coined the term RNA interference.
How does RNA interference work?
When Jorgenson inserted that extra purple-producing gene into the tiny petunia, he activated a secret security device - an enzyme scientists call "the dicer." It's called "the dicer" because it can literally "chop up" any disease, virus, bacteria, or fungus.
And that was the secret to discovering RNA interference. The dicer (or RNA interference) has to be activated to work - or spurred into action. That's why it took so long to discover this medical technology.
Back in Jorgenson's white petunia, the dicer was activated when the unfamiliar intruder (the extra purple gene) invaded the cell. Thinking it was a virus, "the dicer" kicked in - and literally shut down all color-producing genes to protect the flower from the foreign substance. That's how Jorgenson got a white flower.
Scientists began to wonder if this process might work in people (more on this in a moment).
Doctors Mello and Fire patented their RNA interference discoveryŠ
RNA interference is "The Next
Billion Dollar Breakthrough"
~ Forbes Magazine
Surprisingly, an even bigger discovery was about to happen with RNA interferenceŠ
In 2002, Thomas Tuschl, working out of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany, discovered that RNA interference works in human cells.
Remember how Richard Jorgenson destroyed ALL color producing genes in a flower by inserting an extra color-producing gene? Well, Tuschl discovered that this same process works to destroy real human diseasesŠ
According to The London Times, "The diseases that stand to benefit from RNA interference include Alzheimer's, breast cancer, leukemia, schizophrenia, and many, many more."
"The diseases that stand to benefit from RNA interference include Alzheimer's, breast cancer, leukemia, schizophrenia, and many, many more."
- The London Times
The prestigious journal, Science magazine, hailed this discovery the #1 scientific breakthrough of the year.
It boils down to this: "An ancient immune system hiding in our genes has the power to switch off genes at will. We could soon be harnessing this awesome force to stop cancer and viruses dead," reports New Science magazine.
Tuschl found that if doctors want to destroy a particular disease, all they have to do is insert an "evil twin" of that disease to activate the dicer - just like Jorgenson did in the petunia.
Think of RNA interference as "a virus for the virus."
Now, let's say you want to treat macular degenerationŠ
Doctors simply insert an "evil twin" of the disease that reads, "make more blood vessels" underneath the retina - that's what causes the vision impairment. The dicer will "come alive," see that something is not quite right, and destroy genes that are making extra blood vessels.
And that's exactly how Gloria Richard's blind eyes were healed.
Tuschl patented his work. Again, the patents would be split between two small RNA interference research companies.
Why is this important?
This information will protect their future developments, giving them a competitive foothold on RNA interference - technology that could cure thousands, even millions of people like Gloria Richards.