Then, after a sabbatical at Rockefeller and Cornell universities with Prof. Hugh D. Robertson in 1997, he began characterizing the RNA structural elements in the 5' region of the hepatitis C virus. In 2004, he moved to the Spanish National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA), in a virology center in Valdeolmos (Madrid), directed by Prof. Esteban Domingo. Finally, in 2006, he transferred to his present institute. In both these places he has continued to characterize the structural elements of viral RNA, and he still collaborates with colleagues on viral quasispecies. Since 2007, he has also been a member of the CIBER virtual institute for liver and digestive diseases. Jordi Gómez works as scientific researcher in the Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine "López-Neyra" (IPBLN), part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
According to the RNA World hypothesis, it is necessary to presuppose certain signals in the form of ribonucleotide derivatives and RNA structures. These would have been used by diverse RNA groups to mediate their collaborations and conflicts. Later, these agents would have digitally codified the information for its use in protein form. However, that archaic signaling mediated by forms of RNA does not seem to have been completely extinguished.
From the discovery of the hepatitis C virus we have demonstrated that, on the one hand, it is genomically a quasispecies, as is assumed for the replicons of the origin of life; and on the other, that the first 500 nts of its genome have a variety of RNA structures and activities compatible with RNA World analogue signals. These are the recognized by: RNase P, indicating a tRNA-type motif; and RNase III, demonstrating the presence of two dsRNA-type structures. Another structure is specifically activated by UV light (ribozyme type); and finally, we describe a conformational change mediated by microRNA and inhibited by the small molecule geneticin (riboswitch-type).
As well as identifying some of these signals in the mRNA of current cells, our hypothesis also argues that in at least some circumstances of cell deregulation and lack of control, for example during viral infection, these signals still function, that is to say, they are read and interpreted as they were in the remote past. We do not think these signals work exactly as they did 4 billion years ago, but in a similar way to which they would have done in the past.
The aim is to compile a set of this type of signals in cellular mRNAs that, together with what we already know about structural RNAs of the cell and RNA viruses, allows us to draw up a network of connections, to identify a “layer” of biocommunication that is compatible with the remote past.
Jordi Gómez is a vitalist, in the sense that living beings are active in their own future.