Genetic Engineering: RNA can now be used to Program the Actions of a Cell

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Figure showing RNA sequence of command. Credit: Professor Jaramillo/ University of Warwick


New research has discovered that a common molecule, ribonucleic acid (RNA), which is produced abundantly by humans, plants and animals, can be genetically engineered to allow scientists to program the actions of a cell.

As well as fighting disease and injury in humans, scientists could harness this technique to control plant cells and reverse environmental and agricultural issues, making plants more resilient to disease and pests.
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RNAs carry information between protein and DNA in cells, and [..] these molecules can be produced and organised into tailor-made sequences of commands — similar to codes for computer software — which feed specific instructions into cells, programming them to do what we want.
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The researchers made their invention by first modelling all possible RNA sequence interactions on a computer, and then constructing the DNA encoding the optimal RNA designs, to be validated on bacteria cells in the laboratory.

After inducing the bacterial cells to produce the genetically engineered RNA sequences, the researchers observed that they had altered the gene expression of the cells according to the RNA program — demonstrating that cells can be programmed with pre-defined RNA commands, in the manner of a computer’s microprocessor.
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News References Front Line Genomics

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