Scientists discover tiny RNAs play a big role in controlling genes

Oct 25, 2007

A study by researchers at the Yale Stem Cell Center for the first time demonstrates that piRNAs, a recently discovered class of tiny RNAs, play an important role in controlling gene function, it was reported this week in Nature.

Haifan Lin, director of the stem cell center and professor of cell biology at Yale School of Medicine, heads the laboratory that originally identified piRNAs. Derived mostly from so-called “junk DNA,” piRNAs had escaped the attention of generations of geneticists and molecular biologists until last year when Lin’s team discovered them in mammalian reproductive cells, and named them.

The lab’s current work suggests that piRNAs have crucial functions in controlling stem cell fate and other processes of tissue development.

In this study Lin and his Ph.D. student, Hang Yin, discovered more than 13,000 Piwi-associated piRNAs in fruit flies. One particular piRNA, they found, forms a complex with the protein known as Piwi, which then binds to chromatin, a strategic region in the genome that regulates the activity of the gene. Chromatin’s role is to package DNA so that it will fit into the cell, to strengthen the DNA to allow cell division, and to serve as a mechanism to control gene expression.

“This is important in maintaining self-renewal of stem cells,” Lin said. “These small RNAs might provide new tools to harness the behavior of stem cells and other biological processes related to diseases.”

“This finding revealed a surprisingly important role for piRNAs, as well as junk DNA, in stem cell division,” Lin said. “It calls upon biologists to look for answers beyond the one percent of the genome with protein coding capacity to the vast land of junk DNA, which constitutes 99 percent of the genome.”

Source: Yale University

Explore further: Age of puberty in girls influenced by which parent their genes are inherited from

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Life's tiniest architects pinpointed

Feb 21, 2013

If a genome is the blueprint for life, then the chief architects are tiny slices of genetic material that orchestrate how we are assembled and function, Yale School of Medicine researchers report Feb. 21 in the journal Developmental Ce ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find new mechanism for neurodegeneration

5 hours ago

A research team led by Jackson Laboratory Professor and Howard Hughes Investigator Susan Ackerman, Ph.D., have pinpointed a surprising mechanism behind neurodegeneration in mice, one that involves a defect in a key component ...

Schizophrenia's genetic architecture revealed (w/ Video)

Jul 23, 2014

Queensland scientists are closer to effective treatments for schizophrenia after uncovering dozens of sites across the human genome that are strongly associated with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.

Mysterious esophagus disease is autoimmune after all

Jul 22, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Achalasia is a rare disease – it affects 1 in 100,000 people – characterized by a loss of nerve cells in the esophageal wall. While its cause remains unknown, a new study by a team of researchers at ...

User comments : 0