December 08, 2011

It's all in your RNA

No, it's not all in your genes, unless, per this story on the latest RNA findings, we expand what we define as a "gene." And, this isn't about epigenetic controls on DNA, it's about what previously might have been called "junk RNA." So, it may not "all" be in your RNA, but more of "it" may be there than previously thought.
Only now have scientists begun identifying the previously invisible contractors who make sure that materials get where they are supposed to be and in the right order to build a human being or any other creature. Some of these little-known workers belong to a class of molecules called long intergenic noncoding RNAs.
Scientists used to think that these “linc­RNAs” were worthless. As their name suggests, these molecules — at least 200 chemical letters long — do not encode information that the body’s manufacturing machinery can use to cobble together proteins. And the lincRNAs originate in what scientists used to view as barren wastelands between protein-coding genes. But new research is showing that these formerly underappreciated workers have important roles in projects both large and microscopic.
“They regulate every process under the sun,” says John Rinn, an RNA researcher at Harvard Medical School.
It seems this lincRNA works in a way similar to epigenetic markers on DNA, but more closely connected with "coding" RNA than epigenetic markers are with genes.

To me, this says even more. It raises in more depth the question about what the "original replicator" was, just how "alive" we should consider viruses to be and more. Per the late Lynn Margulis, we may have hints of a new, lower level of co-evolution or symbiosis than she demonstrated with the eukaryotic cell.

Was there some evolutionary competition as well as co-evolution? Etc., etc.

And, do we need to worry about RNA mutations as well as DNA mutations, more than previously thought? Per the story, probably so.

Meanwhile, another story on noncoding RNA is just out, too, from Public Library of Science. This one says that noncoding RNA might be one of the factors that accelerated human brain development beyond other primates. It's at the eye-glazing level of microbiology for me, much more so than a story about string theory (absent too, too much math) would be. And, it sounds a bit speculative, per comments about it on Google+. But, the fact that noncoding RNA is being tentatively linked to specific evolutionary development reinforces the possibility of some of the ideas I draw from the Science News story.

The flip side? If genes, environmentally-influenced epigenetics, other environmental factors, and noncoding RNA all have roles to play in human development, things like a "cure for cancer" just faded further into the distance, and on similar lines, the idea of "genetic medicine" both got more complex and of less immediate potential. Somebody alert Ray Kurzweil and other futurists.

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