The work appears in the March 17 issue of Nature.
DNA sequences spell out the instructions for making protein but they aren't always followed to the letter. Sometimes, the genetic recipe gets edited after cells copy DNA to RNA--a close chemical relative--during transcription. Think of DNA as an unalterable "read only" copy of the genetic code and the RNA as a "writable" working copy that cells can edit extensively--adding, deleting, and modifying the molecular letters and words that guide protein assembly. Often, even simple editing such as changing one letter in an RNA molecule affects the resulting protein's function. There are many different types of RNA editing.
Reenan's group studies one particular method called A-to-I RNA recoding. It occurs when an enzyme chemically "retypes" RNA letters at specific locations, changing adenosine (A) to inosine (I). Proteins responsible for fast chemical and electrical signaling in animal nervous systems are the main targets of this process. In a prior study, Reenan's group identified species-specific patterns of RNA recoding on such targets, but didn't explain how they were determined or how they may have evolved. His new study does both.
By comparing the same highly edited RNA from over 30 insects, Reenan uncovered some general rules of A-to-I recoding. He observed that the RNA of different insects folds into unique structures. These shapes single-handedly determine the species-specific RNA editing patterns that Reenan previously
Contact: Nicole Mahoney
National Science Foundation