Discovery of HOTAIR, FIRRE and other lncRNAs

John Rinn headshot

A former professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University, John Rinn recently became the Marvin H. Caruthers Endowed Chair for Early-Career Faculty at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he is also the Leslie Orgel Professor of RNA Science. While studying for his PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University, John Rinn discovered that the human genome encoded numerous new RNA genes call long noncoding RNAs or large intervening non-coding RNAs (lincRNA)

Known for its pivotal role in the body along with proteins and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid) aids cells in carrying out the genetic code. Scientists have begun to discover more and more types of RNA, revealing its crucial role in the cellular process, a role better likened to director than helper.

One important example of this perspective comes from the discovery of HOTAIR and its functions. Research reveals that the molecule guides the response of the immune system, controls cancer growth, oversees the production of fat and stem cells, and transports proteins to gene clusters, among other activities.

Since this early finding the Rinn laboratory has been working harder to find lncRNA loci that when removed from an animal cause dramatic changes to the animals physiology such or a phenotype. This has lead to the discovery of FIRRE that is required to generate key stem cell populations in the immune system. However, too much FIRRE will over-ride some immune responses leading to death. Thus the FIRRE RNA gene is a new clue into how the human immune system has evolved and functions.

The next step for researchers will be to understand how these lncRNAs function on a molecular level. Once the molecular logic of these mysterious RNA genes in uncovered scientists can begin to explore new avenues for lncRNA therapeutics.

discover the genetic code behind the function of HOTAIR and other LINCs. Further discoveries in this field could provide substantial benefits in terms of improving health and wellness through manipulation of the genome.

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