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University of Iowa scientists explore function of 'junk DNA'

the human genome. The function of the remaining non-coding sequence is just beginning to be unraveled. In fact, until very recently, much of the non-coding sequence was dismissed as junk DNA. In 1998, scientists discovered that some DNA produced small pieces of non-coding RNA that could turn off, or silence, genes. This discovery won Andrew Fire and Craig Mello the 2006 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology. Since their discovery, the field has exploded and small, non-coding RNAs have been shown to play an important role in development and disease in ways that scientists are only just beginning to understand.

"Not so many years ago our understanding was that DNA was transcribed to RNA, which was then translated to protein. Now we know that the levels of control are much more varied and that many RNAs don't make protein, but instead regulate the expression of proteins," Davidson explained. "Non-coding RNA like microRNAs represent a set of refined control switches, and understanding how microRNAs work and how they are themselves controlled is likely to be very important in many areas of biology and medicine."

Over 450 microRNAs have been identified in the human genome. Learning how they are turned on and in what cells and what they do, may allow scientists to turn that knowledge to their advantage as a medical tool.
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Source:University of Iowa


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