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Human cells have a built-in mechanism, known as 'gene silencing', for suppressing the activity of particular genes at certain places or times.

Now, scientists are using this technique — which involves using pieces of RNA, the molecule that encodes information needed to synthesise proteins — to combat viruses such as HIV and poliovirus.

Jean-Marc Jacque and colleagues from the University of Massachusetts Medical School describe in this week's issue of Nature how they targeted 'small interfering' RNA strands to various regions of the HIV-1 genome to inhibit the early and late steps of HIV-1 replication in human cells.

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Reference: Nature, 25 July 2002