Long non-codes in nematodes

21 February 2019

Researchers at the Earlham Institute and the Gurdon Institute have identified many functional long non-coding RNAs in the nematode C. elegans.

There’s loads more to genomes than just the genes, and researchers are continually finding new bits and pieces that play important roles. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are among them, and they’re far less-well characterised than their small non-coding RNA counterparts, which are quite well understood by now.

Tens of thousands of lncRNAs have been identified so far in eukaryotic genomes, however molecular function has only been determined for a few hundred and only a few dozen loci have been assessed in vivo. One of the major challenges is to identify functional loci from spurious transcripts.

A team of researchers led by Alper Akay from Eric Miska’s group at the Gurdon Institute, Cambridge and Wilfried Haerty from the Earlham Institute, Norwich (along with postdoc Dr Tomasz Wrzesinski) set-out to identify the long non-coding RNAs in the nematode worm C. elegans.

The new study, published in BioMed Central, identified hundreds of new lncRNAs and their potential functions. Deleting several of these lncRNAs (using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing) made the worms grow smaller and have fewer offspring, for example.

Dr Wilfried Haerty, group leader at Earlham Institute, said; “The identification of functional lncRNAs is a major challenge. We annotated novel loci in C. elegans and after careful selection, we were able to demonstrate significant in-vivo effects associated with their disruption. These results are exciting as very few studies have so far reported in-vivo phenotypes for lncRNAs, and we can now focus our efforts in better understanding the function of these genes.”

Further information: Why C. elegans?

Large regions of our DNA are “non-coding”, meaning these regions do not code for proteins. Yet, many of these non-coding regions are transcribed into long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) molecules. Thousands of these lncRNAs have been identified in humans and in many other organisms, and some are involved in human diseases such as cancer. However, identifying biologically relevant lncRNAs and understanding their function is a difficult challenge.

Caenorhabditis elegans is a nematode worm used as a model organism to uncover the molecular function of genes, and more specifically to assess the in-vivo impact of mutations within them. It was the first multicellular organism to have its complete genome sequenced 20 years ago. As such, understanding how C. elegans lncRNAs function to regulate important developmental processes could help our understanding of human lncRNAs involved in cancer and other diseases.

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact:

Dr Peter Bickerton

Scientific Communications & Outreach Manager, Earlham Institute (EI)

  • +44 (0)1603 450 994

peter.bickerton@earlham.ac.uk

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research Institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £5.43m in 2017/18 - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.

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