Researchers discover precise regulation mechanisms and suspect correlation with immune response
Around 75 per cent of the supposed functionless DNA in the human genome is transcribed into so-called non-coding RNAs (ribonucleic acid). To date, little is known about its function. Together with colleagues from the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (IZI) and Leipzig University, researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) have now been able to demonstrate that the production of non-coding RNAs is precisely regulated. They suspect that non-coding RNAs might play a role in regulating cellular processes or in the modified immune response following exposure to environmental toxicants.
Around two per cent of the human genome acts as a blueprint for proteins, which work as molecular machines assuming important functions in the cells of our bodies. The rest of the genome - still 98 per cent - is more or less a blank page. The areas which do not code for proteins are also referred to as junk DNA. But are they really nothing but a redundant burden? "This is one of the big questions currently hanging over genome research," says Dr Jörg Hackermüller, bioinformatician at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ). "They continue to represent vast blank spots on the genomic map - there is still a lot waiting to be discovered here."
In future investigations, Hackermüller and his team therefore want to test the influence that environmental pollutants have on the appearance of non-coding RNAs in immune cells.
Photo: Alexander Raths Fotolia.com
As early as 2007, in a study published in the scientific magazine Nature, Hackermüller, together with a number of colleagues, was able to demonstrate that not only two per cent of the genome is transcribed into RNA - a template which normally serves the production of proteins - but practically the entire genome, even those areas which are completely neglected when looking at blueprints for proteins. Hackermüller: "This finding gave rise to a lively discussion as to whether this could be caused by chance events or mistakes in the regulation of cellular processes. However, I doubt that nature is so wasteful with resources that it would produce such masses of RNA for no specific reason."
In their latest study published in the specialist magazine "Genome Biology", Hackermüller and his team, in cooperation with Professor Friedemann Horn and Professor Peter F Stadler from Leipzig University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI, were able to bridge yet another knowledge gap. The transcription of non-coding regions in the genome is precisely regulated by cellular signaling pathways - and on a grand scale: up to 80 per cent of the RNA copies were non-coding. "We did not expect such a magnitude," says Hackermüller. "This is not indicative of a chance product - it is highly likely that the non-coding RNAs perform a similarly important functions to that of protein-coding RNA."
Furthermore, the researchers have discovered a new species of non-coding RNA, so-called macroRNA. It is 50 to 200 times the size of regular, protein-coding RNA. "What is remarkable is that parts of these macroRNAs are conserved throughout mammals as well as birds and reptiles," says Horn. "Furthermore, in aggressive types of brain tumours, several macroRNAs are produced much more actively than in tumours with a good prognosis. This is further evidence that non-coding macroRNAs play an important role in cellular processes."
Hackermüller suspects that non-coding RNAs have an important function at the epigenetic level, for example as a type of cellular long-term memory: "This could also explain why the health effects caused by exposure to hazardous environmental substances often do not emerge until years later." In future investigations, Hackermüller and his team therefore want to test the influence that environmental pollutants have on the appearance of non-coding RNAs in immune cells. Nicole Silbermann
Publikation: Hackermüller J, Reiche K, Otto C, Hösler N, Blumert C, Brocke-Heidrich C, Böhlig L, Nitsche A, Kasack K, Ahnert P, Krupp W, Engeland K, Stadler PF, Horn F. Cell cycle, oncogenic and tumor suppressor pathways regulate numerous long and macro non-protein coding RNAs. Genome Biology 15:R48. 2014.
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Helmholtz University Young Investigators Group Bioinformatics & Transcriptomics
Dr Jörg Hackermüller
+49 (0)341 235 1561
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
Telephone: +49 (0)341 235-1635, -1635
Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (IZI)
Telephone: +49 (0)341 355369320
ENCODE Nature 2007: ENCODE Project Consortium. Identification and analysis of functional elements in 1% of the human genome by the ENCODE pilot project. Nature, 447:799-816, 2007.
In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, biodiversity, the consequences of climate change and possible adaptation strategies, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, bio-energy, the effects of chemicals in the environment and the way they influence health, modelling and social-scientific issues. Its guiding principle: Our research contributes to the sustainable use of natural resources and helps to provide long-term protection for these vital assets in the face of global change. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the federal government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. http://www.ufz.de/
The Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI investigates and develops specific problem solutions at the interfaces of medicine, life sciences and engineering. The Institute practices contract research for biotechnological, pharmaceutical and medical-technological companies, hospitals, diagnostic laboratories and research facilities. Within the Business Units of Drugs, Cell Therapy, Diagnostic and Biobanking, the Institute develops, optimizes and validates methods, materials and products. The Institute's core competencies are located in the field of Regenerative Medicine, in particular in the indication areas of oncology, ischemia and autoimmune, inflammatory and infectious diseases. The Institute is clinically oriented and conducts quality checks and the GMP-compliant manufacture of investigational medicinal products. Moreover, the Institute provides support in obtaining manufacturing authorizations and approvals. http://www.izi.fraunhofer.de
Tilo Arnhold | UFZ News
Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery
20.01.2017 | GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH
Seeking structure with metagenome sequences
20.01.2017 | DOE/Joint Genome Institute
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences