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Peering into the shadow world of RNA

The popular view is that DNA and genes control everything of importance in biology. The genome rules all of life, it is thought.

Increasingly, however, scientists are realizing that among the diverse forms of RNA, a kind of mirror molecule derived from DNA, many interact with each other and with genes directly to manage the genome from behind the scenes.

In particular, RNA produced by the vast stretches of DNA that do not code for any genes ?long considered “junk?DNA ?may in fact be serving vital duty by governing important aspects of gene expression. This type of RNA is called non-coding RNA, meaning that although it may be biologically active, it does not carry the instructions for producing any protein in the body.

The importance of better understanding these non-coding forms of RNA is underscored by the fact that they are known to play roles in such critical processes as embryonic development, cell and tissue differentiation, and cancer formation.

A review of current research in this still-developing area of biology, authored by Kazuko Nishikura, Ph.D., a professor in the Gene Expression and Regulation Program at The Wistar Institute, appears in the December issue of the journal Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology (http://www.nature.com/nrm/journal/v7/n12/full/nrm2061.html).

“The essence of gene regulation occurs, of course, at the level of gene transcription,?Nishikura says. “Cellular machinery transcribes genetic DNA into messenger RNA from which the proteins of the body are produced. In the last several years, however, scientists investigating the biological meaning of other forms of RNA that don’t code for proteins have discovered that they oversee another, more subtle level of genome control.?

Nishikura’s own research has for many years explored RNA editing mechanisms. In particular, she has studied an enzyme called ADAR that
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Source:The Wistar Institute


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