After the epigenome: The epitranscriptome

As reported in Science Daily, researchers have published in Cancer Discovery that this RNA, the protein that is produced by our DNA, has its own spelling and grammar, just like DNA. The “epigenetics of RNA” are called epitranscriptome.  It was not too long ago when scientists did not even realize that there was such an epigenome – a unique instruction code to the DNA itself.  Now it appears that it just keeps on going – is anyone really surprised?

Our genome is made up of 6,000 million pieces of DNA that combine four chemicals: A, C, G and T (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine and Thymine). These make up the instructions of our human life. But these instructions are regulated and impacted by our environment: this regulation is called Epigenetics.  In epigenetics, our body reacts to our conditions by “accenting” our genome with DNA methylation C or methyl-C.  Meythl C usually means that a gene is expressed and active, while Methl-C implies that a gene is silent and inactive. When the DNA is active, it produces another molecule called RNA (Ribonucleic Acid). Until very recently, it was believed that this molecule was only a poorly regulated intermediate capable of producing proteins (such as insulin, hemoglobin and others) under DNA’s orders.  Not any more.

It turns out that our RNA is highly regulated and if only two or three modifications at the DNA level can control it, there may be hundreds of small changes in RNA that control its stability, its intracellular localization or its maturation in living beings. In human cells, this field did not start to be studied in depth until recently and now “we now know that RNA can be methylated just like DNA and in a highly specific way,” says Dr. Manel Esteller who produced the research, continuing, “and even more recently we observed that these epigenetic modifications of RNA may be key in the regulation of “guardian” RNAs, also called non-coding RNAs.”

We have all heard it before that the more we know, the more we realize we do not know. Every time researchers look more closely, look smaller, the world of biology gets infinitely larger. The discovery of epigenetics is truly remarkable when you learn that only a few years ago we had know idea about it and its importance to biology.  There is just so much more to come in terms of understanding the mechanics of life. What an amazing time to be alive and aware of the innovation that is occurring in the science of life.

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