MicroRNAs play a big part in gene regulation - and evolution

June 23, 2005

Debut of the New Open Access Journal PLoS Computational Biology

Regulating when and where certain proteins are made is crucial to the normal functioning of living things. To make proteins, information from DNA is transcribed into RNA molecules and then translated into the amino acids building blocks of proteins. But not all genes code for proteins--some make RNA molecules called microRNAs. These small RNA molecules interfere with--and therefore control--the production of proteins. A new paper in PLoS Computational Biology shows how important microRNAs are in the biology of diverse organisms.

Matching up microRNAs with the genes they regulate is a daunting task in any organism, considering that many microRNAs have multiple target genes and that even a fruit fly (Drosophila) has up to 14,000 genes that microRNAs could influence.

Not intimidated by the challenge, Dominic Grün and his colleagues at New York University's Center for Comparative Functional Genomics tapped into the power of computation to search for microRNAs and their target genes in the entire genomes of seven Drosophila species. The authors then compared identified matches to matches they had found previously in vertebrates.

The results provide the most extensive microRNA target gene predictions to date. Based on the known functions of targets, the authors could furthermore assign a biological function to 70% of all microRNAs. "For the first time [this study] compares gene regulation of microRNAs between insects and vertebrates and thus allows insights into the importance and function of microRNAs across huge evolutionary time scales, suggesting that some microRNAs could be involved in shaping the diversity of life," says lead author Nikolaus Rajewsky.

The information will be a vital tool for the microRNA research community, providing opportunities to test predicted biological functions of microRNAs and to explore their evolutionary significance.
Citation: Grün D, Wang YL, Langenberger D, Gunsalus KC, Rajewsky N (2005) MicroRNA target predictions across seven Drosophila species. PLoS Comp Biol 1(1): e13.

Nikolaus Rajwesky
New York University
Announcing the debut of a new open access journal from the Public Library of Science - PLoS Computational Biology.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) and the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) are pleased to announce the June 24 launch of PLoS Computational Biology (www.ploscompbiol.org), a new open-access, peer-reviewed journal reporting major biological advances achieved through computation. Unique in its scope, the journal publishes research from one of the most rapidly growing and exciting areas of scientific inquiry. As a collaboration between a scholarly society and an open access publisher, the journal also provides further momentum to the shift towards unrestricted access and use of all scientific and medical literature.

"Today we have taken a very important first step to a new era of data and knowledge integration which has the potential to fundamentally change the way we do science," says Dr. Philip E. Bourne, editor-in-chief of PLoS Computational Biology. Bourne is a professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of California San Diego, co-director of the Protein Data Bank and senior advisor to the Life Sciences at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

In the inaugural issue, founding editors Philip E. Bourne, Steven E. Brenner, and Michael B. Eisen explain the vision behind PLoS Computational Biology: "What motivates us to start a new journal at this time? Computation, driven in part by the influx of large amounts of data at all biological scales, has become a central feature of research and discovery in the life sciences."

"Until the appearance of PLoS Computational Biology, there has been no single publication with a focus on the important contributions of computational studies to the understanding of living systems," writes Michael Gribskov, president of ISCB, in an accompanying editorial.

Open access - free availability and unrestricted use - to all articles published in the journal is central to the mission of PLoS Computational Biology, and distinguishes this new journal from most scientific journals which still needlessly restrict access to their contents. Open access revolutionizes the way we use research literature, and takes much inspiration from the field of computational biology itself. Gribskov reminds us that "free availability of protein and nucleic acid sequences, protein structures, and other biological data is critical to practitioners of computational biology."

We invite you to explore the full complement of research in PLoS Computational Biology at www.ploscompbiol.org.

PLEASE MENTION PLoS Computational Biology (www.ploscompbiol.org) AS THE SOURCE FOR THESE ARTICLES. THANK YOU.

All works published in PLoS Computational Biology are open access. Everything is immediately available without cost to anyone, anywhere - to read, download, redistribute, include in databases, and otherwise use - subject only to the condition that the original authorship is properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors, and all works are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical research a public resource. PLoS publishes open-access journals of original peer-reviewed research, including PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine, which are available at no cost to anyone in the world with a connection to the Internet. More information can be found at www.plos.org and www.ploscompbiol.org.

The International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) is a scholarly society dedicated to advancing the scientific understanding of living systems through computation, with an emphasis on the role of computing and informatics in advancing molecular biology. Founded in 1997, the ISCB serves a global membership with the goal of increased understanding of the significance of bioinformatics in the scientific community, government, and the public at large. More about the ISCB can be found at http://www.iscb.org/.

Rocky Choi
Publications Assistant
Public Library of Science
185 Berry Street, Suite 3100
San Francisco, CA USA 94107
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U.K.: +44-1223-494493


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