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Non-coding DNA in genomes increases in concert with the increase in developmental complexity in evolution, and is consonant with the important regulatory roles identified for the many classes of non-coding RNAs transcribed from more than 85 % of the DNA regarded as ‘junk’ not so long ago Dr Mae-Wan Ho
A vast RNA underworld exposed
It wasn’t so long ago that most people still believed DNA carries the instructions for making an organism, while RNA simply copies out (transcribes) the instructions (by complementary base pairing) that are then translated into protein via a genetic code, in which different triplets of bases (codons) specify one of twenty amino acids plus start and stop signals. The proteins are the real workhorses in this hierarchy, with the DNA akin to the Holy Scripture – ‘Book of Life’ the Central Dogma – faithfully copied and transmitted by scribes (RNA), to be interpreted and implemented by the faithful (proteins).
But soon after the human genome sequence was announced, it became clear that RNA plays a much more substantive, central role than previously thought.
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It was traditionally thought that the transcriptome would be mostly comprised of mRNAs, however advances in high-throughput RNA sequencing technologies have revealed the complexity of our genome. Non-coding RNA is now known to make up the majority of transcribed RNAs and in addition to those that carry out well-known housekeeping functions (e.g. tRNA, rRNA etc), many different types of regulatory RNAs have been and continue to be discovered. Many of these non-coding RNAs are thought to have a wide range of functions in cellular and developmental processes.
Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are a large and diverse class of transcribed RNA molecules with a length of more than 200 nucleotides that do not encode proteins. Their expression is developmentally regulated and lncRNAs can be tissue- and cell-type specific. A significant proportion of lncRNAs are located exclusively in the nucleus. They are comprised of many types of transcripts that can structurally resemble mRNAs, and are sometimes transcribed as whole or partial antisense transcripts to coding genes. LncRNAs are thought to carry out important regulatory functions, adding yet another layer of complexity to our understanding of genomic regulation.
Functions of lncRNA
LncRNAs may exert their functions…
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