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Reading DNA, Backward and Forward

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MIT biologists reveal how cells control the direction in which the genome is read.

MIT biologists have discovered a mechanism that allows cells to read their own DNA in the correct direction and prevents them from copying most of the so-called “junk DNA” that makes up long stretches of our genome.

Only about 15 percent of the human genome consists of protein-coding genes, but in recent years scientists have found that a surprising amount of the junk, or intergenic DNA, does get copied into RNA — the molecule that carries DNA’s messages to the rest of the cell.

Scientists have been trying to figure out just what this RNA might be doing, if anything. In 2008, MIT researchers led by Institute Professor Phillip Sharp discovered that much of this RNA is generated through a process called divergent expression, through which cells read their DNA in both directions moving away from a given starting point. Read more...

llustration: flickr/Lichen Rancourt; Christine Daniloff/MIT