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It’s a big, big world for non-coding RNAs

 In RNA-Seq, Sequencing

My past two blogs explored the broad topics of gene expression and epigenetics. Oh boy, our cells’ genetic complexity skyrockets after considering the role epigenetics has in biology.  This time, I will focus on non-coding RNAs and how they affect gene regulation and cell activity. These molecules, as the name implies, are not translated into protein. Instead, these once-dismissed molecules are important to cell physiology and scientists are discovering functions daily.

There are several known non-coding RNA species, such as short, long, and circular RNAs. Short non-coding RNAs include micro RNAs (miRNAs) which are about 22 nucleotides in length. Long non-coding RNAs are usually polyadenylated molecules but do not have an open reading frame. And circular RNAs, as one can glean from the name, are a uniquely spliced linear RNA molecule in a circular form. These distinctions are relevant for how we at Cofactor Genomics enrich for these molecules for sequencing; each non-coding RNA requires a specialized protocol (topics for another day).

Why do we care about non-coding RNAs? Well, researchers are learning they are crucial for cell and animal development. In fact, miRNAs and long non-coding RNAs are being studied as potential therapeutic tools and biomarkers, highlighting the significance and possible uses of non-coding RNA in human health. Intriguingly, miRNAs which bind target transcripts and inhibit translation have been shown to be regulated themselves by their non-coding brethren. This ‘cross-talk’ between non-coding RNAs highlights even more regulation (1) and how impressive the cell’s toolbox is for measuring and modulating transcript levels.The toolbox

Over the rest of this series, I will dedicate a blog to each of these non-coding RNAs and how each species is thought to affect gene expression.

 

1) Tay, Y., J. Rinn, and P.P. Pandolfi, The multilayered complexity of ceRNA crosstalk and competition. Nature, 2014. 505(7483): p. 344-52.

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