Researchers identify enzyme that turns on RNA

MADISON - Knowing an organism's genome is good, but knowing what turns on its genes is even better.

Scientists have long searched for triggers that activate ribonucleic acid (RNA), a key component in gene expression. Now, in the Thursday, Sept. 19 issue of the journal Nature, scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison report that they have found an enzyme that activates RNA, which could lead to new ways of regulating genetic information.

"One of the big questions in molecular biology is how genes are controlled," says Judith Kimble, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, a UW-Madison professor of biochemistry and senior author of the paper. "Our finding provides an important piece of the puzzle."

Inside the nucleus of every cell are genes, which are composed of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This genetic information contains all the instructions cells need to make proteins, molecules that enable cells to carry out special functions, such as the transport of oxygen by red blood cells. For these cellular activities to happen, DNA must get copied into RNA, which carry the instructions outside the nucleus to the molecular machinery that makes proteins.

But along the way, things can go awry: If an RNA isn't activated, Kimble says, "it can get trashed or hidden away. And, if the cell doesn't have a particular RNA, it won't have any of the protein the RNA encodes."

Liaoteng Wang, lead author of the article and a graduate student in Kimble's lab, adds, "a gene won't do any good if it fails to be expressed."

By studying the embryonic development of the microscopic worm, C. elegans, Kimble and Wang, as well as Marvin Wickens and Christian Eckmann also from UW-Madison's biochemistry department, identified two proteins - GLD-2 and GLD-3 - that, when bound together to form an enzyme, activate specific RNAs outside the nucleus. This activation would enable the RNA to carry out important steps of germ line, or rep

Contact: Judith Kimble
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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