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Mathematicians find solution to biological building block puzzle
Date:7/31/2012

An international team of mathematicians has proposed a new solution to understanding a biological puzzle that has confounded molecular biologists.

They have applied a mathematical model to work out the functioning of small molecules known as microRNAs components of the body akin to the electronics in modern airplanes.

For a long time molecular biologists thought that the major role of RNA in living cells was to serve as a copy of a gene and a template for producing proteins, major cell building blocks. This belief had been changed at the end of 90s when it was found that myriads of RNA molecules are involved in regulating speeds of practically all molecular mechanisms in a cell. These abundant molecules are essential in regulating the speed of protein production a vital function in bodily processes, including development, differentiation and cancer.

The problem to date has been that scientists have differed over interpretations of how the production of the major building blocks of a cell, proteins, is controlled by microRNAs.

Basically, there were different and sometimes conflicting theories about ways in which microRNAs regulate protein production since the results varied depending on only slightly changed experimental conditions.

Professor Alexander Gorban, who holds a Chair in Applied Mathematics at University of Leicester, said: "The old metaphor of an elephant and blind scientists trying to describe it will be always relevant to science. However, often we use it only as a metaphor, as a generic statement. In this project the elephant's metaphor can be applied literally as a working principle.

"Different biological labs or slightly changed experimental conditions meant that results were different for investigators.

"Quite dramatically, there has been a series of reports in top-ranked journals with contradictory results supporting one or another mechanism. Furthermore, researchers are puzz
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Contact: Professor Alexander Gorban
ag153@leicester.ac.uk
University of Leicester
Source:Eurekalert  

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