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Scientists devise way to measure RNA synthesis on the fly in a live cell

A team of scientists at the University of Chicago has developed a non-invasive laboratory technique that allows them to instantly map when genes are switching off and on in a living bacterium as it becomes exposed to antibiotics and other changes in its environment.

The technique, which is announced in the Monday, June 13 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help scientists discover new drugs and learn to what extent some RNA molecules help control the blueprint of life.

"The standard assumption has been that DNA encoding for proteins was the sole actor to control the blueprint for all of life," said Philippe Cluzel, an Assistant Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago. "After announcing the completion of the human genome, biologists have realized that the DNA sequence wasn't enough to explain the observed complexity of biological function."

Cluzel, a biophysicist, co-authored the PNAS article with Thuc Le, Sebastien Harlepp, Calin Guet, Kimberly Dittmar, Thierry Emonet and Tao Pan, all of the University of Chicago. Their research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago's Materials Research Center for Science and Engineering and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics.

Cluzel compares the unaccounted-for complexity of biological function today to the situation 20 years ago in astronomy, when scientists realized that the celestial objects visible to them did not contain enough gravity to explain the motion of galaxies. "They proposed the hypothesis that the motion of galaxies is affected by the presence of invisible matter called 'dark matter,'" Cluzel said.

In recent years, astronomers have rushed to design experiments that might help them determine what dark matter is made of. "RNA molecules could be called the 'dark matter' of biology," Cluzel said.

Biologists have long known that RNA serves as an important intermediary between DNA an
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Contact: Steve Koppes
skoppes@uchicago.edu
773-702-8366
University of Chicago
13-Jun-2005


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