In the few years since the discovery of RNA interference, it has become clear that this process is ancient. RNAi, the oldest and most ubiquitous antiviral system, appeared before the divergence of plants and animals. Because aspects of RNAi, known as cosuppression, also control the expression of transposable elements and repetitive sequences, the interplay of RNAi and transposon activities have almost certainly shaped the structure of the genome of most organisms. Surprisingly, we are only now beginning to explore the molecular processes responsible for RNAi and to appreciate the breadth of its function in biology. Practical applications of this knowledge have allowed rapid surveys of gene functions (see Fraser et al. 2000 and Gonczey et al. 2000 for RNAi analysis of genes on chromosome I and III of Caenorhabditis elegans) and will possibly result in new therapeutic interventions.
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