RNA has long been seen as DNA’s little brother, a messenger between the human genome and cells’ protein factories. But studies point to a bigger role—ribonucleic acid can “turn off” certain genes, for example, fighting a range of health problems, the New York Times reports. “This is potentially the biggest change in our understanding of biology since the discovery of the double helix,” says a biologist.
RNA’s ability to mute certain genes, known as RNA interference, could have big implications, with scientists attempting to manipulate the process to fight diseases from respiratory problems to cancer. But getting RNA to its target is tricky: Implanted RNA could have unforeseen effects on the wrong genes, or the body may see it as a virus.