Re-think Genes: New Mechanism of Gene Expression Discovered

If I removed once cell at a time from your body, at what point would you not be you?

If I removed once cell at a time from your body, at what point would you not be you?

Researchers are on a seemingly endless quest to discover precisely how DNA and RNA function. A great deal remains a mystery in the field of genetics. In fact up until around one year ago, when scientists captured a photo of DNA, no one knew with absolute certainty what it looked like. The double helix idea was always just a theory.

In a recent ground breaking discovery researchers from the University of Chicago witnessed a never before scene mechanism of gene expression. The researchers found a single gene that encodes two separate proteins from the same sequence of messenger RNA. Let me explain.

Related Article: Women Who Give Birth to Men Have Male DNA in Their Brain for Life

This is from a nucleic acid photoshoot.

This is from a nucleic acid photoshoot.

DNA and RNA are similar in that they both contain a genetic blueprint of an organism. They do however differ in several ways. First, RNA comes in three forms: messenger, transfer, and ribosomal.

mRNA (messenger)- The function of mRNA is to carry genetic information from the DNA in the nucleus to the ribosomes of a cell.

tRNA (transfer)- The function of tRNA is to bring the correct amino acid to the ribosomes in the cystosol.

rRNA (ribosomal)- The function of rRNA is to create new ribosomes.

They also differ in that they each incorporate a different sugar molecule in their structure. Also, where DNA has two strands of nucleotides, RNA has only one strand. For the sake of simplicity think of RNA as DNA’s co-conspirator in the continuation of life. In fact, some researchers speculate that life originally depended entirely on self-replicating RNA, rather than the DNA, RNA, and proteins that it depends on to proliferate today. 

Related Article: Deep Storage Project

So, up until this point we thought we had a pretty decent, overall idea of how DNA and RNA functioned. This study just came out of left field and whispered into the collective ear of geneticists around the world: “You know nothing…”

This bundle of RNA and proteins is called a

This bundle of RNA and proteins is called a

The study is a big deal because it is the first time that scientists have ever viewed anything even remotely similar. According to Christopher Gomez, MD, PhD, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Chicago, who led the study,

This is the first example of a mechanism in a higher organism in which one gene creates two proteins from the same mRNA transcript, simultaneously. It represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how genes ultimately encode proteins.

There is a special sequence in the mRNA known as an internal ribosomal entry site (IRES), a site that tells ribosomes to create a protein from the mRNA sequence. The IRES is normally found at the beginning of an RNA sequence, however, in the particular mRNA sequence that the researchers viewed the IRES was in the middle of the sequence, alerting ribosomes to initiate the creation of a second protein from the same sequence.

Related Article: Titan’s Atmosphere Can Make DNA

This is especially exciting news since it creates a beacon of hope for further applicable genetic discovery, not just DNA origami. Just think, we only recently learned in the last couple decades that genetic predisposition isn’t set in stone, and that epigenetics allow us to alter our genetic expression and the genetic expression and predisposition of our children.

You can check your ancestry, health risks, and more through a DNA check that costs $99.



Polar Bears are all Descended from a Single Bear: The Genghis Khan of Bears


Genghis Khan was a pretty remarkable dude, not only for his ability to kill and conquer with unparalleled fervor and success, but also for his ability to please the ladies, lots and lots of ladies.  According to genetic research, it is estimated that Genghis Khan’s descendants living today are currently numbered at around 16 million, or .05% of the entire world population of males.

Recent research suggests that humans are not the only species to have a common ancestor that really ‘got around.’  Researchers have found that polar bears are all descended from a single mamma brown bear that lived in present-day Ireland between 20,000 to 50,000 years ago.

DNA samples from the great white carnivores – taken from across their entire range in Russia, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Alaska – revealed that every individual’s lineage could be traced back to this Irish forebear.

This apparently gorgeous brown bear is the ancestor of ALL polar bears living today, and I can only assume she would be devastated to see her plethora of grandchildren struggling to survive atop the globe that she once called her sexual battleground.

A cross between a polar bear and a grizzly, a pizzlie, used to be far more common, but as time went on polar bears and grizzlies went their separate ways and became very different genetically, with polar bears being more adept at swimming and hunting seal, and grizzlies being more adept at climbing.

Despite being a different species, not sub-species, the two bears were, and are still able to mate.  As the ice caps melt, and polar bears are pushed further and further south, the world is beginning to spot more and more pizzlies.  This hybridization is giving polar bears an evolutionary advantage as they are now able to live in both worlds, albeit being less proficient at surviving in each one.  It is a juggle between survival through hunting ability, and survival through being able to fundamentally exist in your environment (ie. the melting ice caps).

The Genghis Khan of Bears would be proud to know that her snow-white offspring are making a comeback.  Next up in the evolutionary path of bears, sky-iron armor!