What is RNA?

RNA has finally emerged from the shadows of its mightier cousin – the famed DNA. Recent researches have proved that RNA (ribonucleic acid) is much more than a cellular messenger that merely carries the blueprint of proteins from DNA to ribosomes. It is actually a manager and regulator with wide-ranging powers.

Messengers turn managers

There are hundreds of RNA molecules floating around in the cell, performing a variety of functions. They regulate what combines with what, they switch processes on and off, and they control rates of reaction. Scientists are yet to figure out how authoritative RNA is as far as cellular biology is concerned. They have, nevertheless, deciphered some of its activities and one of them is called RNA interference (RNAi). It has been found that introducing a double strand RNA into a cell sets off a chain of events resulting in the destruction of messenger RNA. This effectively silences the gene, which was sending out the messenger. RNA interference has immense possibilities. It is based on a naturally occurring process and it is very precise. Using it, one can silence any gene. So, it can be deployed to kill off viruses or bacteria. It will also provide a potent tool of silencing rogue genes, say, those causing cancer.

So what is the big deal?

Cures for many dreaded diseases, of course. Scientists have been tweaking genes through more difficult means till now – introducing bits of DNA into cells to change the genetic code. This was easy in plants which have less complicated structures. So, genetically modified crops developed. But the RNA interference method can be used much more effectively and in animal cells too.

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