Small Worms, Small RNAs, Big Questions

Image: Courtesy of Frank Slack  SMALL, YET POTENT: A new and intriguing class of small RNAs can regulate eukaryotic gene expression. But scientists are trying to understand which signals cause these molecules to repress translation (left), and which cause RNA degradation (right). The answer could pave the way for gene therapy advances, among others. Andrew Fire and colleagues first described RNA interference (RNAi) in Caenorhabditis elegans in 1998.1 Exogenous double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)

Aileen Constans
Jul 21, 2002

Image: Courtesy of Frank Slack
 SMALL, YET POTENT: A new and intriguing class of small RNAs can regulate eukaryotic gene expression. But scientists are trying to understand which signals cause these molecules to repress translation (left), and which cause RNA degradation (right). The answer could pave the way for gene therapy advances, among others.

Andrew Fire and colleagues first described RNA interference (RNAi) in Caenorhabditis elegans in 1998.1 Exogenous double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) injected into cells effectively induced silencing of an endogenous gene complementary to the injected RNA. Since then, scientists have used RNAi to silence genes in several organisms, and biotech companies have introduced products to assist them.2,3 In recent months, a number of groups have published data linking the RNAi pathway to a newly discovered class of small RNAs, called microRNAs (miRNAs), the functions of which are largely unknown.

The discovery of these small RNAs in a...

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