Science Daily: New research reveals the discovery of a new cog in the circadian clock, a genome-wide regulatory layer made up of small chains of non-coding nucleotides known as micro RNAS (miRNAs).
“We’ve seen how the function of these clock genes are really important in many different diseases,” said Steve Kay, Provost Professor of neurology, biomedical engineering and quantitative computational biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “But what we were blind to was a whole different funky kind of genes network that also is important for circadian regulation and this is the whole crazy world of what we call non-coding microRNA.”
“Junk DNA” proves to be a valuable tool in circadian rhythms. Formerly thought to be “junk DNA,” miRNAs are now known to affect gene expression by preventing messenger RNA from making proteins. Past research has indicated miRNAs may have a role in the function of circadian clocks but determining which of the hundreds of miRNAs in the genome might be involved remained a problem.
Kay and his team, led by Lili Zhou, a research associate in the Keck School’s Department of Neurology, turned to the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) in San Diego which has created robots capable of high throughput experiments. Working with scientists at the institute, Zhou developed a high throughput screen for a robot to test the close to 1000 miRNAs by individually transferring them into cells the team had engineered to glow on and off, based on the cell’s 24-hour circadian clock cycle.