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New layer of complexity of the month: Epitranscriptomics


Yes, yes, epigenetics again but keep reading anyway:

Decades ago, scientists first discovered that RNA molecules can have modifications, in that they can also have chemical tags attached to them. …

In 2008, however, Chuan He, a researcher from the University of Chicago, studied selected types of enzymes, substances that can cut and paste in other molecules. The researchers thought these enzymes could cut off the epigenetic labels in the DNA.

But their studies showed that several of the enzymes did not appear to act on DNA. This was especially true for one of them, called FTO. …

In 2011, He and his colleagues published research that suggested that the enzyme FTO could actually remove labels from RNA.

And a few years later, several research groups had devised techniques for mapping and investigating a type of RNA modification, called 6-methyladenine (m6A).

Three different studies, including one that [Arne] Klungland was involved in, made it clear that these changes could be turned on and off.

The m6A tags were attached to specific regions of RNA and appeared to be important. Attaching and removing m6A at the right time seemed to be absolutely necessary in some situations, such as in foetal development.

Gradually, more and more scientists have begun to believe in the existence of something they call epitranscriptomics — that is, epigenetics for RNA, which in turn affects how the information in our DNA is used in practice.

“I am convinced that this will prove to be an important level of gene expression regulation,” said Gideon Rechavi of Sheba Medical Center in an article in Science magazine in 2019.

Ingrid Spilde/Nancy Bazilchuk, “RNA: Scientists have discovered a new layer in the genetic code of life” at sciencenorway

Layers on layers, systems on systems. Puts one in mind of Darwin’s Warm Little Pond, doesn’t it?:

“But if (and oh what a big if) we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity etcetera present, that a protein compound was chemically formed, ready to undergo still more complex changes [..] ”

~Charles Darwin, in a letter to Joseph Hooker (1871)

Legacy science media should ramp up those Pond graphics. And keep the speculation about random events accidentally producing life coming. Speculate harder!

See also: Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!

This is just the tip of the iceberg They ain’t seen nothin’ yet. :) pw

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