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Mysterious molecules begin to yield their secrets

A team of investigators at The Scripps Research Institute and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) have discovered a way to screen hundreds and potentially thousands of "noncoding" RNA molecules to discover their functions within cells.

Unlike traditional RNA, which is copied from DNA to code for a protein, these noncoding RNA molecules are never translated into proteins. But noncoding does not mean uninteresting. There are tens of thousands of noncoding RNA molecules inside human cells, and even if only one percent is functional, that's still hundreds of molecules that may be participating in the control of cellular functions.

In this week's issue of the journal Science, the Scripps Research and GNF team reports on an experimental strategy for searching for these undiscovered functions. As a proof of principal, the scientists screened a library of noncoding RNAs, selected one that seemed to play a cellular role, and performed further experiments to prove that it does.

"We have only just hit the tip of the iceberg," says Professor Peter G. Schultz, Ph.D., who holds the Scripps Family Chair and is a professor in the department of Chemistry and The Skaggs Institute of Chemical Biology at Scripps Research. "There's a whole world of this noncoding RNA."

A Stranger in the Protein Encoding Land

Noncoding RNA has long been regarded as something of a stranger in the protein encoding land of RNA. It falls outside the purview of traditional molecular biologists, who once adhered to a concept called the "central dogma," which held that DNA genes are transcribed into RNA transcripts that are then translated into proteins.

The fact that there is non-coding RNA within cells has been known for several years, but it has only been recently that scientists have begun to appreciate noncoding RNA. Many reports have appeared in the scientific literature describing this RNA that does not encode pro
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Contact: Jason Bardi
jasonb@scripps.edu
858-775-4080
Scripps Research Institute
1-Sep-2005


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