Monday, October 13, 2008

Don't Miss It! The 4th Annual Meeting of the Oligonucleotide Therapeutics Society

Here is my first thought when I saw the notice in the New York Academy of Sciences newsletter about the above event: I literally cannot imagine how someone would be excited to go to something with this title. I believe it, sure. I know these things interest other people, but I can't actually imagine it. Then I thought, hey, maybe I'm not giving it a fair shake. After all, I have found in the past that things that are of no interest to me become at least moderately interesting when someone who knows what s/he's talking about explains it to me (specifically, I'm thinking of football and modern art). I should give the Oligimalarky thing a shot.

Okay, first things first. I typed oligonucleotide into Google and the first hit, of course, is Wikipedia. Their explanation is: A short segment of RNA or DNA, typically with twenty or fewer bases. Blah, blah, blah.* Okay, so I have the basic idea. It doesn't do much for me and I don't care, but I have the basic idea. Then I went straight to the horse's mouth - the people giving the meeting. I hunted for awhile and came up with this (in this case, I interpret "therapeutics" to mean "medicine". Why do they refuse to use English? Okay, it's English, but you know what I mean):
Imagine an entirely new class of therapeutics, made from just four chemically similar building blocks, strung into chains twenty or so building blocks long. Imagine that just by changing the arrangement of the four building blocks you could make a host of different therapeutic compounds. With one sequence, you could make a drug for knocking down production of a secreted protein involved in heart disease. Using the same blocks in a different array you could shut down a mitochondrial protein that prevents cancer cells from committing suicide. And so forth.

So that's still pretty dense, but at least now I have an idea of why someone would be excited about this. Because they say, "Gobbledy gook yadda blah" and I hear, "We can cure cancer." Now that's something to get excited about.

*Okay, actually it says:
An oligonucleotide (or oligo) is a short segment of RNA or DNA, typically with twenty or fewer bases. Although they can be formed by cleavage of longer segments, they are now more commonly synthesized by polymerizing individual nucleotide precursors. Automated synthesizers allow the synthesis of oligonucleotides up to 160 to 200 bases. The length of the oligonucleotide is usually denoted by "mer" (from Greek meros, "part"). For example, a fragment of 25 bases would be called a 25-mer. Because oligonucleotides readily bind to their respective complementary nucleotide, they are often used as probes for detecting DNA or RNA. Examples of procedures that use oligonucleotides include DNA microarrays, Southern blots, ASO analysis, fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), and the synthesis of artificial genes.

Oligonucleotides composed of DNA (deoxyoligonucleotides) are often used in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a procedure that can greatly amplify almost any small piece of DNA. There, the oligonucleotide is referred to as a primer, allowing DNA polymerase to extend the oligonucleotide and replicate the complementary strand.

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