Non-coding RNA: From junk to treasure

Published 2013-09-24 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:33

[PRESS INVITATION 24 September 2013] Although most RNA molecules do not contribute to protein synthesis, they have essential functions to fulfil in cells and are implicated in several biological processes, including in the development of disease. The non-coding genome research field is now exploding, and many of the researchers spearheading its development are participating at a conference hosted by Karolinska Institutet.

For many decades, RNA was considered a molecule whose major purpose was to convert DNA to protein. The parts of DNA that did not give rise to protein were often called junk DNA, a term that soon established itself and made it harder for ideas about RNA function to penetrate the scientific paradigm. However, most of the DNA does not code for proteins, but instead gives rise to non-coding RNA. Intense research over the past decade has also shown that non-coding RNA has many important functions. It influences and controls numerous cellular processes and in so doing is of considerable significance to disease and organ development.

Some of the most influential researchers in the field will now be coming to give presentations at Karolinska Institutet. Speakers include John Mattick of Australia's Garvan Institute, one of the pioneers on the non-coding genome, who will be talking about the role played by RNA in the development of the brain in different species. The human genome has vast similarities, for example, to the mouse genome, and yet the differences in brain complexity between these two species are enormous  which, according to Professor Mattick, is the result of the evolutionary effects of non-coding RNAs.

Another speaker will be Eric Miska, from the University of Cambridge, England, who has recently demonstrated that inheritance is not only mediated by protein-coding genes. In his studies of worms, he has observed how non-coding RNA can be passed on to the next generation to control cell function. Other speakers including Antonio Giraldez, Yale University, John Rinn, Harvard Medical School and Howard Chang, Stanford University will present their research, where novel aspects of the function and mechanisms of action of non-coding RNAs have been clarified.

"The discoveries of the past few years compel us to change our mindset," says Gonçalo Castelo-Branco, principal investigator at Karolinska Institutets Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics and one of the organizers of the conference. "Development of tissues and organs is not governed only by proteins, but non-coding RNAs also have a very important role, and are involved in a plethora of other processes in evolution and disease."

Reporters are welcome to attend the conference and interview the scientists.

"Regulatory RNAs in Development, Disease and Evolution"

  • When: Tuesday 8 October 2013 at 08.30 am - 5.00 pm
  • Where: Nobel Forum, Nobels väg 1, Karolinska Institutet, Solna

Learn more about the latest news in the field

For further information, contact: