New RNA Letter Regulates Gene Expression

Feb 17, 2016

DNA, RNA, protein — the end. Or is it? Until recently, the pattern used to encode genetic information into our cells was considered to be relatively straightforward: four letters (A,G,C,T) for DNA and four (A,G,C,U) for RNA. This equation, however, turned out to be oversimplified — RNA was holding out.

A new study published in Nature by a team of Tel Aviv University, Sheba Medical Center, and University of Chicago scientists finds that RNA, considered the DNA template for protein translation, often appears with an extra letter — and this letter is the regulatory key for control of gene expression. The discovery of a novel letter marking thousands of mRNA transcripts will offer insight into different RNA functions in cellular processes and contributions to the development of disease.

“Epigenetics, the regulation of gene expression beyond the primary information encoded by DNA, was thought until recently to be mediated by modifications of proteins and DNA,” said Prof. Gidi Rechavi, Djerassi Chair in Oncology at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and head of the Cancer Research Center at Sheba Medical Center. “The new findings bring RNA to a central position in epigenetics.”

The research, led jointly by Prof. Rechavi and Prof. Chuan He, John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Chicago, and conducted by a team of researchers at TAU, Sheba, and Chicago, represents a breakthrough in understanding how RNAs are regulated.

“This discovery further opens the window on a whole new world of biology for us to explore,” said Prof. He. “These modifications have a major impact on almost every biological process.”

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