Their discovery revealed a new mechanism for gene regulation in which a specific gene can be silenced by homologous double-stranded RNA synthesized in the cell. This control system for gene expression has proven to be important for both the development of an organism and the physiological functions of cells and tissues. Furthermore, RNAi protects against RNA virus infections, especially in plants and invertebrates, and secures genome stability by keeping mobile elements silent.
Today, double-stranded RNA is used as a powerful tool to experimentally elucidate the function of essentially any gene in a cell. The discovery of RNAi has already had an immense impact on biomedical research and might lead to novel medical applications in the future.