Researchers Studying Little-Known Genetic Sequences

Nov 13, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Arizona researchers are among a group of scientists who have discovered a source of previously scarce small RNA molecules. Their finding, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a valuable new tool for better understanding how plants grow and develop.

All living things contain small RNA molecules, said Vicki Chandler, a UA Regents' Professor and director of the UA's BIO5 Institute. Some small RNA molecules help the genes in cells carry out their instructions, others silence genes and prevent them from acting. In plants, two types of small RNA molecules have been studied, one of them 21 nucleotides long, the other 24 nucleotides long. Nucleotides are the atomic "building blocks" of all genetic material.

Working with a mutant strain of maize, Chandler and her colleagues have honed in on a distinct class of small RNA molecule that is 22 nucleotides long. The 21- and 22-nucleotide RNAs are scarce in most plants, including wild maize, but in the mutant strain, the researchers discovered that they were common because the 24-nucleotide RNAs are dramatically reduced.

Having a reliable source of the 21- and 22-nucleotide RNA means plant biologists can now study these molecules in depth, and work out the pathways they follow to regulate plant genes. "We don't yet know exactly what it (the 22-nucleotide RNA) is doing in the cells, so there'll be a whole new line of experiments as we try to figure it out," Chandler said.

She also said that there may well be other understudied small RNA molecules waiting to be looked at as well. "I think we've only seen the tip of the iceberg with these small regulatory RNAs. There's still a lot to learn, and that's exciting."

The information that results from studying "new" small RNAs will become doubly valuable as other plant biologists, including BIO5 member Rod Wing, finish refining the genetic sequence of maize. "The two together (the small RNA molecules and the sequenced maize genome) will provide a lot of new tools for better understanding plant growth and function," Chandler said.

That work could ultimately have implications for everything from environmental and ecological issues to agriculture and medicine. "Gene regulation is fundamental to so many issues," Chandler said. The 22-nucleotide RNA molecule, she said "is one example of a pathway that – once it's worked out – could be targeted to address them."

Source: University of Arizona

Explore further: New insights into how different tissues establish their biological and functional identities

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

15 minutes ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

21 minutes ago

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

25 minutes ago

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

32 minutes ago

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Recommended for you

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.