Molecular code cracked

Aug 17, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Scientists have cracked a molecular code that may open the way to destroying or correcting defective gene products, such as those that cause genetic disorders in humans.

The code determines the recognition of by a superfamily of RNA-binding proteins called pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) proteins.

When a gene is switched on, it is copied into RNA. This RNA is then used to make proteins that are required by the organism for all of its vital functions. If a gene is defective, its RNA copy and the proteins made from this will also be defective. This forms the basis of many terrible genetic disorders in humans.

RNA-binding PPR proteins could revolutionise the way we treat disease. Their secret is their versatility - they can find and bind a specific RNA molecule, and have the capacity to correct it if it is defective, or destroy it if it is detrimental. They can also help ramp up production of proteins required for growth and development.

The new paper in describes for the first time how PPR proteins recognise their RNA targets via an easy-to-understand code. This mechanism mimics the simplicity and predictability of the pairing between described by Watson and Crick 60 years ago, but at a protein/RNA interface.

This exceptional breakthrough comes from an international, interdisciplinary research team including UWA researchers Professor Ian Small and Aaron Yap from the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and Professor Charlie Bond and Yee Seng Chong from UWA's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, along with Professor Alice Barkan's team at the University of Oregon. This research was publicly funded by the ARC and the WA State Government in Australia and the NSF in the USA.

"Many PPR proteins are vitally important, but we don't know what they do. Now we've cracked the code, we can find out," said ARC Plant Energy Biology Director Ian Small.

"What's more, we can now design our own to target any RNA sequence we choose - this should allow us to control the expression of genes in new ways that just weren't available before. The potential is really exciting."

"This discovery was made in plants but is applicable across many species as PPR proteins are found in humans and animals too," says Professor Bond.

Explore further: Researchers uncover secrets of internal cell fine-tuning

More information: PLoS Genet 8(8): e1002910. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002910

Related Stories

Scientists create novel RNA repair technology

Jan 18, 2012

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have identified a compound that can help repair a specific type of defect in RNA, a type of genetic material. The methods in the new study could accelerate ...

Recommended for you

Sugar mimics guide stem cells toward neural fate

5 hours ago

Embryonic stem cells can develop into a multitude of cells types. Researchers would like to understand how to channel that development into the specific types of mature cells that make up the organs and other structures of ...

Researchers uncover secrets of internal cell fine-tuning

Jul 29, 2014

New research from scientists at the University of Kent has shown for the first time how the structures inside cells are regulated – a breakthrough that could have a major impact on cancer therapy development.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wealthychef
not rated yet Aug 17, 2012
What's missing in the article: what's next? It sounds like we are ready to revolutionize the way we treat disease, but what would that revolution entail? What's the end result? What's the next roadblock in getting there, and how likely is it to actually happen? Shallow article.
sirchick
not rated yet Aug 17, 2012
Theres a link for more information wealthychef