Scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory and the University of Maine have discovered that genetic material in the cell that was previously thought to be “junk” because of its apparent lack of function likely plays a part in regulating genetic circuits responsible for regeneration in highly regenerative animals.
The discovery of these novel long noncoding RNAs and their role in regulating regeneration may lead to an answer to the paramount question that is being examined by scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory: If highly regenerative animals such as zebrafish and salamanders can regenerate tissues and organs, why we can’t we?
The answer could one day lead to the development of drugs to trigger humans’ dormant pathways for regeneration. Like most other mammals, the capacity for regeneration in adult humans is limited.
In particular, the scientists looked at the role of noncoding RNAs, or RNAs that were formerly considered “junk” because they do not make proteins, in the early stages of heart regeneration in the zebrafish, a common aquarium fish that is one of nature’s champions of regeneration.
RNA, or ribonucleic acid, typically acts as a messenger that transports instructions from the DNA, the carrier of genetic information, to the machinery in the cell that manufactures proteins involved in biological functions.
“One of the secrets to decoding why zebrafish can regenerate their hearts while adult humans cannot may lie with these noncoding RNAs,” said King, the paper’s lead author. “The protein-coding genes in zebrafish and humans are more or less the same — what’s different is how they are regulated during regeneration by noncoding RNAs.”
Paper. (open access) – Benjamin L. King, Michael C. Rosenstein, Ashley M. Smith, Christina A. Dykeman, Grace A. Smith, Viravuth P. Yin. RegenDbase: a comparative database of noncoding RNA regulation of tissue regeneration circuits across multiple taxa. npj Regenerative Medicine, 2018; 3 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41536-018-0049-0 More.