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Tiny RNAs-'biological equivalent of dark matter'-wins prestigious AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize

The discovery of micro-sized RNA molecules (miRNAs)-a breakthrough described as "the biological equivalent of dark matter, all around us but almost escaping detection"-earned the coveted 2001-2002 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize.

Three journal reports, published in the 26 October 2001 issue of Science, were named to receive the Prize, the oldest award conferred by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize was established in 1923, with funds donated by Newcomb Cleveland of New York City, to recognize outstanding Science articles.

The award-winning research provides new insights into gene expression-the fundamental process by which information in life's blueprint, DNA, is transferred to messenger RNA (mRNA) and then translated into proteins. Understanding how protein production is controlled during gene expression is essential to unraveling the mysteries of all life processes, including, for example, the development of disease.

The AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize was awarded to three research teams at the Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire; the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Germany's Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.

Together, the winning articles "reveal the completely unexpected abundance of ultra-small RNA molecules, only 20 to 24 nucleotides long," explained Donald Kennedy Editor-in-Chief of Science. "What we've learned is that these abundant microRNAs are evolutionarily conserved across a number of organisms, and may affect gene regulation involved in the development of many types of cells and tissues. The outstanding contributions of these three research teams have thus written a new chapter in our understanding of gene control, and are arguably among the most significant biomedical research papers published in 2001."

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