Can’t tell your ribonucleic acid from your deoxyribonucleic acid? Let us help!
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) contains the biological instructions that make each species unique. These instructions are passed on from adults to offspring which is how traits like black hair, or blue eyes are inherited from our parents.
DNA molecules are tightly packaged together and this bundled form of the DNA is called a chromosome. The complete DNA instruction book, or genome, for a human contains about three billion bases and about 20,000 genes on 23 pairs of chromosomes.
DNA contains the instructions needed for an organism to develop, survive and reproduce, but these instructions need to be enacted by something else.
DNA sequences are translated into messages – or RNA (ribonucleic acid) – that can be used to produce proteins, which are the molecules that do most of the work in the body. The RNA copies of the DNA are actually responsible for controlling what’s happening in the cells.
Then we come to microRNA – which are even smaller RNA molecules. These tiny RNAs don’t code for proteins but are instead involved in regulating the conversion of other RNA into protein. By doing so, they can regulate important developmental and physiological processes including insulin secretion, cholesterol metabolism, aging, immune responses and inflammation.
In addition to their important roles in healthy individuals, microRNA have also been implicated in a number of diseases including a broad range of cancers, heart disease and neurological diseases.
While they're very small, they’re key for regulating the expression of most of your genes and their proper function is essential for maintaining healthy cells. If something goes wrong with microRNA, you could get cancer, dementia, Alzheimer's, heart disease, and more.
Consequently, microRNA are intensely studied as candidates for diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers and predictors of drug response. For example, if scientists identify specific microRNAs that are changing in a certain disease, they can use that as a starting point to find the potential genes that are affected by that change. With this information, scientists can discover biomarkers and even design better drugs for the future.