RNA, the transporter of genetic information within the cell, has emerged from the shadow of DNA to become one of the hottest research areas of molecular biology, with implications for many diseases as well as understanding of evolution.
But the field is complex, requiring access to the latest equipment and techniques of imaging, gene expression analysis and bioinformatics, as well as cross-pollination between multiple scientific disciplines. This has led to a major European push to bring the field together via a network of overlapping multidisciplinary projects, spearheaded by the European Science Foundation (ESF) with its EUROCORES Programme RNAQuality.
The great potential of the RNA research field to solve a variety of fundamental problems relevant for understanding of life and predicting cures for diseases was unleashed at the RNAQuality Programme's first conference, held in Granada in June 2008. As well as many European groups, the conference was represented by leading pioneers from the US in the field, who welcomed the new initiative as an important collaborative force.
RNA was once considered to be just the faithful messenger taking genetic information from the genome to the ribosome, or protein factory, but that view has been blown away by recent research. It is now known that RNA has additional roles in regulating gene expression and as an important structural component both in the cell nucleus and in the ribosomes. Furthermore, errors in transcribing RNA from DNA are frequent and require a variety of elaborate quality control mechanisms to prevent both mis-regulation of genes, and manufacture of aberrant RNA and protein fragments that clog up the workings of the cell, and that if unchecked can cause a variety of disorders, including cancers.
Delegates at the conference also heard how there is great potential for creating new compounds that manipulate the cell's apparatus for transcribing DNA into RNA to overcome a number of serious disorders caused by deleterious mutations in specific genes, as opposed to problems with the RNA itself. Jacobson also presented one of the most exciting developments, a molecule that overcomes a common deficiency in genes that prevents their being read right up to the end of their sequence during transcription. Jacobson pointed out that there are about 2400 human genetic disorders resulting from mutations that cause genes to be incompletely read, including cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. A drug based on the molecule is now entering trials that could lead to it becoming generally available. Results so far indicate dramatic improvements in both cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy sufferers, although it is only suitable for those disorders caused by the presence of a premature stop sign in a gene sequence, as a result of a mutation. It does though highlight the huge therapeutic potential of the research into RNA and its quality control.
Significant progress has been made in different aspects of RNA research over the last decade or more, leading to the current situation where many groups are working on different aspects of the problem. The challenge being met by the ESF's RNAQuality Programme is to bring these groups together, and make Europe a much greater force in the field, according to Jim Anderson, from Marquette University's Department of Biological Sciences in the US.
Another important aspect of RNA research lies in the interaction between DNA transcription, and the physical structure both of the membrane-bound cell nucleus and the genome coiled within it. Genes are transcribed within the nucleus and the resulting RNA molecules then emerge through small holes that are connected to the genome by proteins called nuclear pore complexes. In one of the presentations, Nick Proudfoot from Oxford University in the UK explained how some genes are enhanced by being close to the nuclear pore complex, indicating a close relationship between gene expression and nuclear structure that must have played out through evolutionary history. Another point to emerge from Proudfoot's presentation was how some genes are expressed more efficiently for a different reason, because the section of DNA containing their sequence is coiled locally into a loop, rather than as a branch. Quite simply, this speeds up the transcription process of reading the gene because the enzyme concerned, RNA Polymerase, can just keep on encircling the loop. As Proudfoot explained, this is relevant for quality control as well. "They may afford quality control by "telling" the polymerase it is transcribing a bona fide gene, with a proper beginning and end," said Proudfoot. "Otherwise the polymerase may have initiated erroneously." The existence of a DNA ring makes it easier to identify the sequence corresponding to a gene, and transcribe it correctly.
Angela Michiko Hama | EurekAlert!
Repairing damaged hearts with self-healing heart cells
22.08.2017 | National University Health System
Biochemical 'fingerprints' reveal diabetes progression
22.08.2017 | Umea University
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine
22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.08.2017 | Life Sciences