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 30, 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 30, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How 'Yes Means Yes' Defines Sexual Assault

How 'Yes Means Yes' Defines Sexual Assault

Newsy (Sep. 29, 2014) Aimed at reducing sexual assaults on college campuses, California has adopted a new law changing the standard of consent for sexual activity. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists May Have Found An Early Sign Of Pancreatic Cancer

Scientists May Have Found An Early Sign Of Pancreatic Cancer

Newsy (Sep. 29, 2014) Researchers looked at 1,500 blood samples and determined people who developed pancreatic cancer had more branched chain amino acids. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Colo. Doctors See Cluster of Enterovirus Cases

Colo. Doctors See Cluster of Enterovirus Cases

AP (Sep. 29, 2014) Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Colorado say they have treated over 4,000 children with serious respiratory illnesses since August. Nine of the patients have shown distinct neurological symptoms, including limb weakness. (Sept. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dr.'s Unsure of Cause of Fast-Spreading Virus

Dr.'s Unsure of Cause of Fast-Spreading Virus

AP (Sep. 29, 2014) Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Colorado say they have treated over 4,000 children with serious respiratory illnesses since August. Nine of the patients have shown distinct neurological symptoms, including limb weakness. (Sept. 29) Video provided by AP
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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