RNA helps genes determine traits

A Yale study suggests that genes are not the sole determinants of an organism’s characteristics. The team reported in Nature Genetics on December 26, 2010, that a type of regulatory RNA works with a common protein, Hsp90, to protect organisms from harmful genetic variations—without the help of genes. 

About a decade ago, scientists found that flies lacking Hsp90 often had abnormalities. Hsp90 seemed to protect against harmful genetic variations, but the researchers suspected that it doesn’t act alone. They found that a small non-coding RNA called Piwi-interacting RNA acts with Hsp90 and another organizing protein called Hop to prevent both the emergence of new genetic variants and the activation of existing variants. 

“This study shows that we still have a lot to learn about the most basic principles of gene regulation,” said senior author Haifan Lin, Ph.D., director of the Yale Stem Cell Center. 

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Haifan Lin

Eugene Higgins Professor of Cell Biology, and Professor of Genetics and of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences