Making the silent genes speak

DNA feature distributions in the promoters of lncRNA genes (red) and protein-coding genes (blue) that reflect significant difference in characteristics of promoters of these gene groups.

© Alam et al./PLOS ONE

In their study of genomes, researchers have long focused attention on specific areas such as genes that carry instructions for making proteins. Meanwhile, they’ve neglected a crucial set of genes that don’t code for proteins — instead these genes code for so-called long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) and play an important role in the regulation of protein-coding genes.

Researchers now realize that these RNAs play a pivotal part in regulating genes, yet they have not been extensively studied. Now a team of researchers from Saudi Arabia and the United States has used recent advances in computational biology to look closely at the genes that carry instructions for lncRNA.

Led by Vladimir Bajic, the director of the Computational Bioscience Research Center at KAUST, the research team discovered that the lncRNA are regulated quite differently from protein-coding genes.

“While we did expect that these two large gene groups could be controlled in different ways, we did not expect such a radical difference in their regulation,” says Bajic. “The results suggest a whole new set of possibilities for the control of gene activities.”

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