RNA goes loopy

Researchers have found circular RNA for the first time
05 March 2013

Interview with 

Nell Barrie


Nell - Well, I like this first one because it's got the headline, "RNA goes loopy" which sounds like something you get in a tabloid, but they probably wouldn't be covering this type of thing.

Kat - "Goes crazy kills everyone!". What's RNA up to now?

Nell - So, as you might have guessed from "RNA goes Loopy", this is about RNA that's circular. So, normal idea, sort of GSE students looking at "the messenger" of the cell - RNA is like a little string. But in this case, we're talking about circular RNA which we didn't really know was a possibility or existing until quite recently.

Kat - So, why haven't we found these circular RNAs before, because it seems completely contradictory to everything we know about RNA so far?

Nell - Well, yeah. I found this interesting because actually, it seems like the fact that we were finding all these linear RNAs, it was actually an artefact of the way that researchers were doing this type of study because the way that you find them is by looking for characteristic tails or these little molecules. Obviously, if you've got a circle, it doesn't have a tail so you're not going to find it.

Kat - You don't find what you're not looking for?

Nell - Exactly, yeah.

Kat - So, this is really intriguing because what are these up to? I mean, last, last month, we talked about the new DNA, this quadruplex DNA. Now, we're talking about circular RNA. Is it actually important?

Nell - Yeah, I mean, the quadruplex genetic, it's so last week, it's all about loopy RNA this week? Really, what we're looking at is what these little funny structures could be doing inside the cell and as any good biologist will know, it's all about structure and function. So, the fact that they're circular could mean that they're interacting in different ways with things inside the cells and that's really what researchers are looking at at the moment.

Kat - And it is important to point out that these are naturally occurring, so it's likely that there's probably a whole bunch more in our cells that we don't know about. It's two absolutely fascinating papers that came out in Nature this week. And then I guess there's a whole new field of RNA research opened up here.

Nell - Yeah, absolutely and what this shows is that the researchers have actually gone back and looked at previously existing databases and found new examples of circular RNA that they didn't know was there before. And it's looking like it could be doing interesting things like mopping up other RNAs that are in the cell, perhaps interfering with some types of processes, looking at things like binding with proteins from viruses, all that kind of stuff. So there's a lot more research to be done to find out exactly how these things work.


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