Discovery by MGH/Harvard scientists may be key developmental insight Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School have discovered a tiny RNA gene that may control developmental timing in creatures as diverse as fish, sea urchins, mollusks, marine worms, flies, nematodes and humans.
The team led by Gary Ruvkun, PhD, of the MGH Molecular Biology Department, a professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, showed that a tiny regulatory RNA that controls developmental timing in the C. elegans nematode worm is present in the genomes of a wide variety of animals and is regulated in a similar manner.
The discovery that a universally conserved gene may control developmental timing could prove to be a fundamental insight for developmental biology, the study of how multicellular creatures control the complex choreography of cells as they grow from a fertilized egg into an adult organism. The study appears in the Nov. 2 issue of Nature.
The team was composed of postdoctoral fellows Amy Pasquinelli, PhD, Brenda Reinhart, PhD, and a worldwide group of biologists who are experts in the biology of marine mollusks, jellyfish, coral, sponges, worms, flies, mice, fish, sea urchins and sea squirts.
By analyzing the genes of this Noah's ark of creatures, the team found that this RNA gene is universal to bilaterally symmetric animals (those in whom the left and right sides of the body are essentially identical) but is not present in more primitive animals, such as sponges and coral, nor in plant or microbial species. An RNA gene is one that ultimately leads to the production of the single-strand molecule RNA instead of a protein.
The discovery of this common feature of developmental timing
suggests that this tiny RNA gene evolved almost a billion years ago
in animals to regulate the transition from early larval stages to
later reproductive phases and that almost all animal species have
Contact: Sue McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital