Bioscience

Small RNA Molecules Provide Big Tools for Understanding Plant Development

September 18, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

[Source: Deborah Daun, BIO5 Insitute, UA] – University of Arizona researchers are among those who have discovered a source of previously scarce small RNA molecules. Their finding, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a valuable new tool for better understanding how plants grow and develop.

All living things contain small RNA molecules, explains Vicki Chandler, PhD, UA Regents’ Professor and director of the BIO5 Institute. Some small RNA molecules help the genes in cells to carry out their instructions; others silence genes and prevent them from acting. In plants, two types of small RNA molecules have been studied, one of them 21 nucleotides long, the other 24 nucleotides long. (Nucleotides are the atomic “building blocks” of all genetic material.)

Working with a mutant strain of maize, Chandler and her colleagues have honed in on a distinct class of small RNA molecule, one that’s 22 nucleotides long. The 21- and 22-nucleotide RNAs are scarce in most plants