The cell's 'New World': First complete atlas of RNA-binding proteins

June 1, 2012

In one of the most famous faux pas of exploration, Columbus set sail for India and instead 'discovered' America. Similarly, when scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, set out to find enzymes – the proteins that carry out chemical reactions inside cells – that bind to RNA, they too found more than they expected: 300 proteins previously unknown to bind to RNA – more than half as many as were already known to do so. The study, published online today in Cell, could help to explain the role of genes that have been linked to diseases like diabetes and glaucoma.

"We are very excited that, unlike Columbus, we found what we were looking for: well-known enzymes that bind to RNA," says Matthias Hentze, who led the study at EMBL with Jeroen Krijgsveld. "But we never thought there was still so much unexplored territory, so many of these RNA-binding proteins to be discovered."

Almost 50 of the new proteins Hentze and Krijgsveld found are encoded by genes known to be mutated in patients suffering from a variety of diseases, from diabetes and glaucoma to prostate and pancreatic cancers. This finding opens new avenues for researchers studying these disorders. It raises the possibility that such conditions could be caused by a malfunction not in the protein's previously established function, but in its potential role in RNA control.

The idea that enzymes might also function as genetic regulators, by binding to RNA and controlling its function, had already been raised by previous work in the Hentze lab. To investigate further, Alfredo Castello, Bernd Fischer at EMBL and colleagues developed a new method for identifying and isolating all proteins that bind to RNA in living cells. The new approach will have many further uses, as it can be applied to other cell types and conditions, to explore which proteins bind to under different circumstances. This will enable scientists to study how the cell's machinery adapts to stressful situations, responds to drugs or to changes in metabolism, or is altered in disease.

Explore further: Cracking a virus protection shield

Related Stories

Cracking a virus protection shield

June 16, 2006

Ebola, measles and rabies are serious threats to public health in developing countries. Despite different symptoms all of the diseases are caused by the same class of viruses that unlike most other living beings carry their ...

Mechanism of microRNAs deciphered

May 16, 2007

Over 30% of our genes are under the control of small molecules called microRNAs. They prevent specific genes from being turned into protein and regulate many crucial processes like cell division and development, but how they ...

RNA on the move

November 26, 2009

In the fruit fly Drosophila, oskar mRNA, which is involved in defining the animal’s body axes, is produced in the nuclei of nurse cells neighbouring the oocyte, and must be transported to the oocyte and along its entire ...

Dundee researchers make gene breakthrough

September 16, 2011

Researchers at the University of Dundee have made a significant breakthrough in understanding how human cells decode genes important for cell growth and multiplication.

Recommended for you

Scientists overcome key CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurdle

December 1, 2015

Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that significantly cut down on "off-target" ...

Study finds 'rudimentary' empathy in macaques

December 1, 2015

(—A pair of researchers with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Lyon, in France has conducted a study that has shown that macaques have at least some degree of empathy towards their fellow ...

Which came first—the sponge or the comb jelly?

December 1, 2015

Bristol study reaffirms classical view of early animal evolution. Whether sponges or comb jellies (also known as sea gooseberries) represent the oldest extant animal phylum is of crucial importance to our understanding of ...

Trap-jaw ants exhibit previously unseen jumping behavior

December 1, 2015

A species of trap-jaw ant has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.