RNA Biology

Photo: RNA and protein have closely co-evolved.

Photo: RNA and protein have closely co-evolved. Pictured are U6 small nuclear RNA (red) and its chaperone protein Prp24 (black). Prp24 passes through the large single-stranded loop of U6 and contacts the RNA with three of its four globular “RRM” domains. (PDB: 4n0t)

Life on Earth is thought to have begun in an RNA world more than 3 billion years ago. Today, RNA continues to be of vital importance to cellular function. It can both catalyze biochemical reactions (the ribosome is a ribozyme) and transmit genetic information. RNA can also guide protein enzymes to specific sites in DNA or RNA, as occurs in CRISPR-Cas function.

RNAs have evolved to work closely with proteins, forming ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNPs). Many nanomachines of the cell are RNPs, including the ribosome, spliceosome, telomerase, and signal recognition particle. RNAs regulate transcription both directly, as is the case for E. coli 6S RNA, and indirectly, as in X chromosome inactivation in mammals by Xist. RNA-binding proteins autoregulate their synthesis by binding to their mRNAs and attenuating transcription, splicing, or translation.

The early steps of embryo development are regulated by maternal mRNA translation since zygotic transcription begins only after several cell divisions. Small non-coding RNAs contained in sperm can convey paternal epigenetic information to the developing zygote. Viral RNAs invade cells to wrest control of the genetic program but can be silenced by cellular RNAs. Many diseases are caused by defects in RNA synthesis and processing, and synthetic RNAs are currently used to treat a few of these diseases.

Labs in the CMB RNA Biology focus group are working to expand the frontiers of our knowledge of RNA function, using approaches ranging from genetics and genomics to single-molecule microscopy and cryo-EM. We invite you to join us in this exciting endeavor. Please visit the web sites of RNA Biology focus group members to see details of our current research. You can view the speakers who participate in our monthly RNA club (RNA MaxiGroup) here.


Focus Group Chair David Brow
Biomolecular Chemistry Department
DNA transcription and RNA splicing in yeast


Focus Group Members

Silvia Cavagnero

Chemistry Department

Protein folding and aggregation in the cell, molecular chaperones, role of the ribosome in protein folding


Richard Eisenstein

Nutritional Sciences Department

Molecular control of vertebrate iron metabolism


Aaron Hoskins

Biochemistry Department

Mechanisms of pre-mRNA Splicing


Judith Kimble

Biochemistry Department

Molecular genetics of animal development


Andrew Mehle

Medical Microbiology & Immunology Department

Influenza virus replication machinery


Francisco Pelegri

Genetics Department

Genetic control of zebrafish embryogenesis


Aurelie Rakotondrafara

Plant Pathology Department

RNA, translation, plant virus, IRES, viral resistance


Gail Robertson

Neuroscience Department

Molecular mechanisms of ion channel disease


Michael Sheets

Biomolecular Chemistry Department

Molecular mechanisms regulating early vertebrate development


Nathan Sherer

Oncology Department

Cell biology of HIV replication


Ahna Skop

Genetics Department

Role of mRNAs in cell division and pluripotency; Neurodegeneration


Lloyd Smith

Chemistry Department

Development and application of novel bioanalytical methods; new instrumentation and chemistries for biological mass spectrometry and biologically modified surfaces


Marvin Wickens

Biochemistry Department

RNA and gene control; role of RNA regulation in development and the nervous system


Jerry Yin

Genetics Department

Cellular/molecular mechanisms of memory formation and psychiatric dysfunction


Xinyu Zhao

Neuroscience Department

Epigenetic regulation, neural stem cells, neurodevelopment, noncoding RNA, RNA binding protein, learning and memory