When George Lucas penned the scripts to the Star Wars series, is it possible that he foresaw the parallels his plots would have with epigenetics? Probably not, but some new research has us thinking they share a lot in common.
The non-coding RNA “dark side” of the genome has generated a lot of buzz over the last years. What started off with small RNAs in control of protein translation in the cytoplasm has now spread into the rest of the cell. Judging from a slew of high-profile papers, the non-coding RNA Empire is gearing up for another strike to take over the nucleus, too, with its lncRNA and lincRNA troops claiming supremacy of all things chromatin and epigenetics. However, it appears that the messenger RNA Alliance is not ready to surrender yet, and is preparing for a return from the outer territories to become more than just a boring protein production template.
A study led by Karsten Rippe at Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, Germany reports that some coding RNAs have an unexpected function for maintaining the structure of active transcription compartments via their 3’‑untranslated regions. Admittedly, these parts of the transcript make a certain amount of “non-codingness” hard to avoid even for pure mRNAs. But hey, have a closer look at the dark side: Didn’t some short open reading frames found in “non-coding” RNAs secretly turn out to be translated into peptides?
Within the RNA universe, it seems the lines between Jedi knights and the dark side of the Force are blurring. As master Yoda might have said: “Meditate on this, I will.”
Find way more details, and fewer Sci-Fi analogies in Nucleus, September/October 2011.