DNA, it has turned out, isn't all it was cracked up to be. In recent years we learned that the molecule of life, the discovery of the 20th century, did not -- could not -- by itself explain the huge differences in complexity between a human and a worm. Forced to look elsewhere, scientists turned to RNA, a direct yet more complex transcript of DNA. But methodological problems have historically plagued the study of RNA regulation in living cells, limiting not only the accuracy of results but also our understanding of RNA's role in human disease.
But now, in research to appear in the November 2 advance online issue of Nature, Robert B. Darnell, head of the Laboratory of Molecular Neuro-oncology at Rockefeller University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and his team have changed all that.
By adapting techniques mastered in the test tube and combining them with high throughput technology, the team has developed a genome-wide platform to study how specialized proteins regulate RNA in living, intact cells. The platform allows researchers to identify, in a single experiment, every sequence within every strand of RNA to which proteins bind. The result is an unbiased and unprecedented look at how differences in RNA can explain how a worm and a human can each have 25,000 genes yet be so different.
"RNA offers a way to make the cell much more complex than what this limited set of genes can offer," says Darnell, who is Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor at Rockefeller. "But how is RNA being regulated in different conditions and diseases, and in different cell types? With this platform, we now have a way to address all these questions."
Traditional methods used molecules to extract protein-RNA complexes from living tissue. But often the molecule only extracted the RNA. Other times, the protein bound too weakly to survive the purification process, which involved stripping the complex of unwanted debris. To a
|Contact: Thania Benios|