Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Junk DNA' drives embryonic development

Date:
December 3, 2012
Source:
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute
Summary:
Researchers have discovered that microRNAs play an important role in embryonic development. The study pinpoints two microRNA families that direct the allocation of cells into the three germ layers -- ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm -- that give rise to all tissues and organs in the body.

Differentiating mouse embryonic stem cells (green = mesoderm progenitor cells, red = endoderm progenitor cells). The microRNAs identified in this study block endoderm formation, while enhancing mesoderm formation.
Credit: Image courtesy of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

An embryo is an amazing thing. From just one initial cell, an entire living, breathing body emerges, full of working cells and organs. It comes as no surprise that embryonic development is a very carefully orchestrated process -- everything has to fall into the right place at the right time. Developmental and cell biologists study this very thing, unraveling the molecular cues that determine how we become human.

"One of the first, and arguably most important, steps in development is the allocation of cells into three germ layers -- ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm -- that give rise to all tissues and organs in the body," explains Mark Mercola, Ph.D., professor and director of Sanford-Burnham's Muscle Development and Regeneration Program in the Sanford Children's Health Research Center.

In a study published November 14 in the journal Genes & Development, Mercola and his team, including postdoctoral researcher Alexandre Colas, Ph.D., and Wesley McKeithan, discovered that microRNAs play an important role in this cell- and germ layer-directing process during development.

MicroRNA: one man's junk is another's treasure

MicroRNAs are small pieces of genetic material similar to the messenger RNA that carries protein-encoding recipes from a cell's genome out to the protein-building machinery in the cytoplasm. Only microRNAs don't encode proteins. So, for many years, scientists dismissed the regions of the genome that encode these small, non-protein coding RNAs as "junk."

We now know that microRNAs are far from junk. They may not encode their own proteins, but they do bind messenger RNA, preventing their encoded proteins from being constructed. In this way, microRNAs play important roles in determining which proteins are produced (or not produced) at a given time.

MicroRNAs are increasingly recognized as an important part of both normal cellular function and the development of human disease.

So, why not embryonic development, too?

Directing cellular traffic

To pinpoint which -- if any -- microRNAs influence germ layer formation in early embryonic development, Mercola and his team individually studied most (about 900) of the microRNAs from the human genome. They tested each microRNA's ability to direct formation of mesoderm and endoderm from embryonic stem cells. In doing so, they discovered that two microRNA families -- called let-7 and miR-18 -- block endoderm formation, while enhancing mesoderm and ectoderm formation.

The researchers confirmed their finding by artificially blocking let-7 function and checking to see what happened. That move dramatically altered embryonic cell fate, diverting would-be mesoderm and ectoderm into endoderm and underscoring the microRNA's crucial role in development.

But they still wanted to know more…how do let-7 and miR-18 work? Mercola's team went on to determine that these microRNAs direct mesoderm and ectoderm formation by dampening the TGFβ signaling pathway. TGFβ is a molecule that influences many cellular behaviors, including proliferation and differentiation. When these microRNAs tinker with TGFβ activity, they send cells on a certain course -- some go on to become bone, others brain.

"We've now shown that microRNAs are powerful regulators of embryonic cell fate," Mercola says. "But our study also demonstrates that screening techniques, combined with systems biology, provide a paradigm for whole-genome screening and its use in identifying molecular signals that control complex biological processes."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. The original article was written by Heather Buschman. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. R. Colas, W. L. McKeithan, T. J. Cunningham, P. J. Bushway, L. X. Garmire, G. Duester, S. Subramaniam, M. Mercola. Whole-genome microRNA screening identifies let-7 and mir-18 as regulators of germ layer formation during early embryogenesis. Genes & Development, 2012; DOI: 10.1101/gad.200758.112

Cite This Page:

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. "'Junk DNA' drives embryonic development." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121203091556.htm>.
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. (2012, December 3). 'Junk DNA' drives embryonic development. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121203091556.htm
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. "'Junk DNA' drives embryonic development." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121203091556.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Get on Your Bike! London Cycling Popularity Soars Despite Danger

Get on Your Bike! London Cycling Popularity Soars Despite Danger

AFP (Sep. 1, 2014) Wedged between buses, lorries and cars, cycling in London isn't for the faint hearted. Nevertheless the number of people choosing to bike in the British capital has doubled over the past 15 years. Duration: 02:27 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins