NYU's Center for Comparative Functional Genomics helps to unravel the function of microRNAS

MicroRNAs are a recently discovered large class of small, non-coding genes. Each animal genome contains hundreds of these genes, which have been shown to regulate the expression of protein coding genes by binding to partially complementary sites in messenger RNAs. However, little is known about the biological function of these tiny genes, which are encoded in a string of 21 to 24 DNA bases.

In a series of four high-profile papers in Nature, Nature Genetics, Developmental Biology, and PloS Computational Biology published over the past 15 months, researchers at New York University's Center for Comparative Functional Genomics have shed light on the function and evolution of microRNA across a wide set of genomes. Their newest findings appear in the inaugural issue of Public Library of Science's journal, PloS Computational Biology.

This study, headed by NYU Assistant Biology Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky, included researchers Dominic Grn, Yi-Lu Wang, and David Langenberger, and Research Assistant Professor Kristin Gunsalus, all at NYU's Center for Comparative Functional Genomics. By comparing seven recently sequenced fly species, they found that thousands of genes in the genome of a laboratory model organism--the fruit fly--are likely to be regulated by microRNAs.

The researchers could also predict a specific biological function for 70 percent of all of these microRNAs. The predictions in the study are publicly available at pictar.bio.nyu.edu/. The paper also shows that microRNAs that are conserved between flies and mammals are likely to target the same proportion of genes in each species, although the number of conserved regulatory relationships is relatively small.

These findings hint at a significantly larger role for microRNAs during evolution. Evolutionary changes in which genes are targeted by certain microRNAs could thus help to explain differences between species, implicating that microRNAs

Contact: James Devitt
New York University

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