The New RNA World

A Brief Timeline of RNA Research

New RNA World Flower

RNA has historically been thought of as an “intermediate” in the central dogma of molecular biology. The main function attributed to RNA in the past was to act as a messenger to deliver the instructions and information contained in DNA to encode proteins. We now know that there are also many different and unique classes of RNAs and that these RNA molecules can directly carry out many processes in the cell, including activating or repressing gene expression, catalyzing enzymatic reactions, modulating the activities of proteins and other RNAs, and acting as scaffolds or guides for large molecular complexes. RNA molecules perform a stunningly diverse and elegantly complex set of functions in all species of life, but there is almost certainly a vast amount that we still can learn about RNA and its functions. Now, more than ever, it is evident that we are living in The New RNA World.

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"We have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the genetic programming of higher organisms because of the apparently reasonable but now evidently incorrect assumption that most genetic information is transacted by proteins. The vast majority of the human genome does not encode proteins, but is dynamically expressed as RNA, whose primary purpose appears to be to control the epigenetic processes that underpin development and brain function. Understanding these processes and their plasticity will occupy the next generation of molecular biologists and neuroscientists, and lead to an enlightened view of human biology and disease."

-Professor John S. Mattick
Executive Director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research
Sydney, Australia

RNA Throughout History
Timeline of important events in RNA research