role of mRNA – ScienceDaily
The corona pandemic has ensured that the term “mRNA” is now also known to a wide audience beyond laboratories and lecture halls. However, the molecule is much more than an important part of an effective vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. “MRNAs are central to all living things on our planet. Without them, life as we know it wouldn’t work, ”says Elmar Wolf.
Wolf is Professor of Tumor System Biology in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Würzburg. Together with his research team, he has now deciphered new details about mRNA formation that provide new information about how a fundamental process inside cells works: transcription. The team presents the results of their research in the current issue of Molecular cell.
Information becomes protein
Transcription: If their biology lessons can still be remembered, then they know this is the process by which genetic information in DNA is translated into messenger RNA – or as scientists like to call it: MRNA. Only mRNA is able to transmit information from the genetic material of DNA in the nucleus of the cell to the sites of protein biosynthesis outside the nucleus. “The composition of mRNA thus decides how the cells in our body look and function,” says Wolf.
The process of transcription from DNA to mRNA seems relatively straightforward: “You can think of transcription as an obstacle course. RNA polymerase starts the reading process at the start of the gene, then travels through the entire gene and finally reaches the finish line, “says Loup. If the polymerase reaches the end, the mRNA has been Scientists have long known that many things can go wrong in this process After all, many genes make up a long “race track” with many obstacles.
Polymerase fails in tough places
In order to better understand what happens at the molecular level during running, Wolf and his team took a close look at the transcription process. “We studied an important component of RNA polymerase: the SPT6 protein,” explains Wolf. The question they explored is: “Is SPT6 important for the transcription process and, if so, in what way?” “
What do scientists do when they want to learn more about the function of a protein: they take it out of cells and see what happens. This is exactly what Wolf and his team did. The result was pretty clear: “Interestingly, RNA polymerase starts producing mRNA even in the absence of SPT6,” Wolf described. But then he regularly gets stuck in difficult places – you could say he falls over an obstacle.
New image of the transcript
This failure has two consequences which have a negative impact on cell function: On the one hand, hardly any RNA polymerase reaches its destination, which is why hardly any mRNA is produced. On the other hand, however, the gene itself is also affected. “Without SPT6, the polymerase destroys the obstacles and the trail, which is why functional RNA polymerases are then unable to find their way,” explains Wolf. Thus, it is clear that the SPT6 protein is a central element in the production of mRNA in cells.
With these findings, the researchers are helping shed light on the transcription process: “Until now, scientists believed that the only thing that mattered for mRNA production was the number of RNA polymerases that started transcription.” , explains Wolf. Thanks to the results which have just been published, it is now clear that all the RNA polymerases which start the transcription process do not actually reach the end of the gene and that the SPT6 protein is essential for this arrival.
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