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Role of mRNA in the conversion of genetic information from DNA to proteins

Beyond laboratories and lecture halls, the corona epidemic has assured that the phrase "mRNA" is now well-known. The molecule, on the other hand, is considerably more than a necessary component of an effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. "All living creatures on our planet have mRNAs as a vital component. Life as we know it would not be possible without them "Elmar Wolf agrees.

Wolf is a professor of tumor system biology at the University of W├╝rzburg's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He has now deciphered new information regarding the synthesis of mRNA with his research team, providing significant insights into how a vital function inside cells, transcription, works. The findings of the team's research are published in the current edition of Molecular Cell.

If you recall your biology classes, you know that transcription is the process through which the genetic information in DNA is transformed into messenger RNA, or mRNA as scientists prefer to call it. Only mRNA is capable of conveying information from the genetic material of DNA in the nucleus of the cell to protein production sites outside the nucleus. "The mRNA composition consequently determines how our body's cells look and function," Wolf explains.

The process of converting DNA to mRNA appears to be straightforward: "Transcription can be compared to an obstacle course. The RNA polymerase begins reading at the beginning of the gene, then progresses through the entire gene until it reaches the end "Wolf clarifies. The mRNA is created if the polymerase makes it all the way to the finish. Scientists have known for a long time that this process can go horribly wrong. After all, many genes are like a long "racing track" with numerous stumbling blocks.

Wolf and his team studied the transcription process in order to gain a better understanding of what happens at the molecular level throughout the race. "We looked at the protein SPT6, which is a crucial component of the RNA polymerase," Wolf adds. "Is SPT6 important for the transcription process, and if so, in what way?" is the question they investigated.

When scientists want to understand more about a protein's function, they take it out of the cells and observe what happens. That is precisely what Wolf and his team accomplished. "Intriguingly, RNA polymerase starts producing mRNA even in the absence of SPT6," Wolf explained. Then it gets stuck in tough areas on a frequent basis, or you could say it falls over an obstacle.

This failure has two negative implications that affect cell function: On the one hand, very little RNA polymerase reaches its destination, resulting in very little mRNA production. The gene, on the other hand, is also affected. "Without SPT6, the polymerase destroys the obstacles and the racetrack, preventing functional RNA polymerases from finding their route," Wolf explains. As a result, it's obvious that the SPT6 protein plays a key role in mRNA synthesis in cells.

The researchers' results are helping to shed more light on the transcription process: "Until now, experts had assumed that the only factor affecting mRNA output was the number of RNA polymerases that started transcription," Wolf explains. Because of the newly published findings, it is now obvious that not all RNA polymerases that start the transcription process make it all the way to the end of the gene, and that the protein SPT6 is required for this.

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