Advances in 'micro' RNA exploring process of life

CORVALLIS, Ore. Researchers at Oregon State University have made an important advance in the understanding of "micro-RNA" molecules, which are tiny bits of genetic material that were literally unknown 10 years ago but now represent one of the most exciting new fields of study in biology.

The findings will be reported Friday in the journal Science.

They reveal for the first time a new mechanism by which micro-RNA can stop the function of messenger-RNA by literally cutting it in half, interfering with the normal function of specific messenger RNAs in gene expression.

This "expression" of genes that code for essential proteins is ultimately what controls whether a cell turns into a lung, liver, brain or other cell. Understanding what activates this process or stops it is a key to understanding the biological process of life itself, and forms the foundation for advances in medicine, agriculture and other fields.

On this frontier of biology, experts say, the most intriguing new component is micro-RNA, a minuscule type of regulatory molecule that had seemed insignificant even in the extraordinarily tiny, microscopic world of cell biology.

The first micro-RNA, in fact, was only discovered in 1993 and at the time was thought to be a biological oddity in worms. A couple hundred have since been discovered in both plants and animals. But it has only been in just the past few months that scientists working in this area have come to understand the potentially profound importance of micro-RNA.

"For a long time, people really did not know that these micro-RNAs were even there," said James Carrington, professor and director of the OSU Center for Gene Research and Biotechnology. "They were under the radar, and observations of them were limited by our technology. But as we learn more about these regulatory molecules, we're beginning to understand the scope of their biological importance. In molecular biology, micro-RNAs are clearly one of the top

Contact: James Carrington
Oregon State University

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