A new UC San Francisco study highlights the potential importance of the vast majority of human DNA that lies outside of genes within the cell.
The researchers found that about 85 percent of these stretches of DNA make RNA, a molecule that increasingly is being found to play important roles within cells. They also determined that this RNA-making DNA is more likely than other non-gene DNA regions to be associated with inherited disease risks.
The study, published in the free online journal PLOS Genetics on June 20, 2013, is one of the most extensive examinations of the human genome ever undertaken to see which stretches of DNA outside of genes make RNA and which do not.
The researchers — senior author and RNA expert Michael McManus, PhD, UCSF associate professor of microbiology and immunology and a member of the UCSF Diabetes Center, graduate student Ian Vaughn, and postdoctoral fellow Matthew Hangauer, PhD — identified thousands of previously unknown, unique RNA sequences.
"Now that we realize that all these RNA molecules exist and have identified them, the struggle is to understand which are going to have a function that is important," McManus said. "It may take decades to determine this."
The RNA most familiar from textbooks is the messenger RNA that is transcribed from DNA in genes and that encodes the amino acid building blocks of proteins. The transcription of messenger RNA from DNA is a key step in protein production. The rest of the DNA on the cell's chromosomes was once thought not to be transcribed into RNA, and was referred to as junk DNA.
Today, scientists estimate that only 1.5 percent of the genome consists of genes, McManus said. But over the last two decades other kinds of RNA have been identified that are transcribed from DNA outside of gene regions. Some of these RNA molecules play important biological roles, but scientists debate whether few or most of these RNA molecules are likely to be biologically significant.
Among the RNA transcribed by the DNA outside of genes, the UCSF researchers identified thousands of previously unknown RNA sequences of a type called lincRNA. So far, only a handful of lincRNA molecules are known to play significant roles in human biology, McManus said.
Previous research has shown that lincRNAs can have diverse functions. Some control the activity of genes that encode proteins. Others guide protein production in alternative ways.
"RNA is the Swiss army knife of molecules — it can have so many different functions," McManus said.
The development of RNA-sequencing techniques in recent years has made possible the collection of massive amounts of RNA data for the first time.
To identify unique RNA molecules that are transcribed from human DNA, the UCSF researchers re-examined data on RNA transcription that they gathered from more than 125 data sets, obtained in recent years by scientists who studied 24 types of human body tissues. The new study represents one of the largest collections of lincRNAs gathered to date.
McManus said that the findings are in general agreement with those reported in September 2012 by researchers associated with a project called ENCODE, which included among its goals the detection of RNA transcripts within the genome. Many of the cells examined in ENCODE were long-lived laboratory cell lines and cancer cell lines, whereas the data analyzed in the UCSF study was from normal healthy human tissue, McManus said.
The UCSF research reported in PLOS Genetics was funded by the NIH Human Epigenome Atlas Reference Epigenome Mapping Center, by a National Institutes of Health Bay Area Cancer Target Discovery and Development Network grant, by a PBBR New Frontier Research Award (UCSF), and by a Susan G. Komen Search For The Cure Postdoctoral Fellowship.
UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.
Jeffrey Norris | EurekAlert!
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy