The “dark matter” of biology

Ramin Shiekhattar, from the Wistar Institute, hates the term “junk DNA.” He much prefers to call it the dark matter of biology.

Long segments of RNA—encoded in our DNA but not translated into protein—are key to physically manipulating DNA in order to activate certain genes. These non-coding RNA-activators (ncRNA-a) have a crucial role in turning genes on and off during early embryonic development, researchers say, and have also been connected with diseases, including some cancers, in adults.

In an online article of the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Wistar’s Ramin Shiekhattar, Ph.D., detail the mechanism by which long non-coding RNA-activators promote gene expression. They show how these RNA molecules help proteins in the cell to create a loop of DNA in order to open up genes for transcription. Their experiments have also described how particular ncRNA-a molecules are related to FG syndrome, a genetic disease linked to severe neurological and physical deficits.

Read more…

For an interesting video presentation on non-coding RNA and biological ‘dark matter’ see the video below.

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