Wednesday, March 21, 2012

RNA Trades Bit Part for Starring Role in the Cell

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¡§RNA Trades Bit Part for Starring Role in the Cell,¡¨ an article written by Andrew Pollack, shows that at last, RNA is not just ¡§the poor cousin of DNA¡¨ anymore. It was known that DNA was the structure that made life, containing genes, which were the master instructions of life. On the other hand, RNA just simply conveyed the instructions to all parts of the cell. But recently, new discoveries are showing that RNA do much more than just act as DNA¡¦s messenger.

In the past, RNA was known only as a nucleic acid that transmits genetic information from DNA to the cytoplasm, while controlling several chemical processes in the cell. RNA consists of a single stranded chain, ribose sugar, and the bases adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil, compared to the thymine in DNA. The three types of RNA were messenger RNA, transfer RNA, and ribosomal RNA. Messenger RNA is the form that mediates the transfer of genetic information from the nucleus to ribosomes in the cytoplasm, where it serves as a template for protein synthesis. Transfer RNA is the form that transports amino acids to ribosomes for incorporation into a polypeptide undergoing synthesis. Ribosomal RNA is the permanent structural part of a ribosome.

In a recent discovery, scientists have found tiny snippets of RNA with two strands, instead of the normal number of one. They have discovered that the RNA can be used to shut off specific genes. RNA interference, the technique is called, is leading to more discoveries in life, and doctors hope that one day, it can be used for medicine and inactivating genes. Scientists reported that Prader-Willi and Fragile X syndromes, each resulting in mental retardation, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia might be associated with RNA defects. RNA interference may be the key to solving uncertain mysteries like these.

New evidence proposes that some RNA is not just the conciliator of DNA and protein, but is also the end product. Introns, the huge stretches of DNA that do not contain protein-coding genes, actually hold the code for some of this RNA. A study published by scientists at Affymetrix of Santa Clara, California stated that in addition to the DNA¡¦s containing the recipes for proteins, a lot more DNA was being copied into RNA. What RNA is doing is still imprecise, and most of it may have no function. According to Dr. Sean Eddy, a researcher at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Washington University, cells are probably just sloppy, turning a surplus of DNA into RNA. But evidence suggests that RNA is somewhat involved in regulating the way genes are turned on and off.

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Scientists have found out that some genes produce tiny RNA¡¦s, known as micro-RNA¡¦s. Micro-RNA¡¦s are about 1 to bases in length. They bind to matching pieces of messenger RNA and turn it into a double strand to keep it from doing its job. Because of this, the production of the corresponding protein is halted. Micro-RNA has been found in many species. 16 were found in arabidopsis, a plant, and 50 were found in the round worm. A number for humans is estimated at more than 00.

RNA interference was discovered by Dr. Andrew Fire of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Dr. Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts. They found that when double-strand RNA was given to roundworms, it would stop the gene corresponding to that RNA. Numerous scientists theorize that RNA interference is a protective mechanism against viruses, which sometimes also create double-strand RNA when they replicate. When double-stranded RNA is sensed, an enzyme called dicer chops it into about 1 to pieces. These small pieces are called interfering RNA¡¦s, where each short segment attars a phalanx of enzymes. They look for messenger RNA that corresponds to the small RNA and destroys them.

Scientists then realized that micro-RNA and interfering RNA¡¦s were the same length and used much of the same means. Micro-RNA¡¦s appear to be formed as longer stretches of RNA that fold back on themselves to create double strands. The sequence of the bases seem like a palindrome, so when folding occurs, the complementary bases line up and the two arms stick together. More roles are being found for interfering-RNA. For example, interfering-RNA binds to chromosomes to shut down genes more permanently than can be done by stifling messenger RNA in yeast. But at first, it was unclear that RNA interference would work in humans. After all, mammalian cells, confronted with long double-strand RNA, essentially obliterate themselves as a defense against pathogens. But scientists at the Max Planck Institute found that short double-strand RNA would not set off the self-destructive response but would silence the corresponding gene. Now, scientists are finding that RNA interference is a quicker way to turn off genes than other kinds of methods.

Scientists are hoping to use RNA interference to treat diseases in the future. Dr. John Rossi of the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California, along with Dr. Ramesh Akkina at Colorado State University genetically engineered blood-producing stem cells to make a double-strand RNA that corresponded to a part of a gene in H.I.V. When those stem cells were transplanted into mice, they formed T cells, the target of the virus, which inactivated the gene in the virus and staved off infection. Still, it isn¡¦t easy to make this technique work in human patients, because RNA tends to break down quickly in the body. An alternative is to deliver DNA, which is more stable. It would be engineered to make RNA that folded back on itself into a double strand. But it is gene therapy, which has had little success. Antisense, a technology similar to RNA interference, was also known as a way to treat disease. It uses a single strand of RNA or DNA that attaches to the messenger RNA and shuts off protein production. Scientists, though, still say RNA interference may work better because it takes advantage of a natural process.

Until recently, RNA was always second in importance to DNA. DNA would be known for making up the genes, the master instructions of life. But new discoveries have proven that RNA does much more than assigning instructions to parts of the cell for DNA, and is just as important as DNA. A most radical viewer even stated that RNA provides the command and control of cells. RNA will be useful in the future, helping in treating diseases and saving lives.

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