Eating Information

22 Sep 2011

At ... Chinese researchers at Nanking University have found some unknown effects from eating plants and herbs. The plant miRNAs may get into the blood and tissue of the host species - simply in the process of eating those plants and their fruits. Once inside the host body they can elicit functions by regulating host 'target' genes and then regulate host physiology. In a nutshell, in this godsend research for the traditional Chinese health industry, plants can cause the host community, over time, to adapt in ways beneficial to the plant. The micro RNAs in question are a class of nucleotide non-coding RNAs that do not code for protein. Instead, they bind to target messenger RNAs to inhibit protein translation. Exogenous plant miRNAs are present in the sera and tissue of various animals, aquired orally through food uptake. For example, MIR 168a is abundant in rice and in Chinese people. The finding is novel in that by eating various plant materials you are also eating 'information' in the form of miRNAs that could regulate your physiology unobtrusively. The significance of this is that it has implications for human health and metabolism, provides evidence plant miRNAs may be an additional food nutrient, provides a novel mechanism of development of metabolic disorders, but from a Chinese perspective it provides an indication that plant miRNAs may provide essential functional molecules in support of traditional Chinese herbal medicine - or is that unkind? The paper was published in Cell Research, Sept 20th 2011.