Mathematicians find possible solution to microRNA mystery
Mathematicians have proposed a new solution to a puzzle that has confounded molecular biologists.
The team at Leicester University have applied a mathematical model to work out the functioning of microRNAs.
For a long time molecular biologists thought that the major role of RNA in living cells was to serve as a copy of a gene and a template for producing proteins.
This belief had been changed at the end of 90s when it was found that myriads of RNA molecules are involved in regulating speeds of practically all molecular mechanisms in a cell.
The problem to date has been that scientists have differed over interpretations of how the production of the major building blocks of a cell, proteins, is controlled by microRNAs.
Professor Alexander Gorban, who holds a Chair in Applied Mathematics at University of Leicester, said: “The old metaphor of an elephant and blind scientists trying to describe it will be always relevant to science.
“However, often we use it only as a metaphor, as a generic statement. In this project the elephant’s metaphor can be applied literally as a working principle.
“Different biological labs or slightly changed experimental conditions meant that results were different for investigators.
“Quite dramatically, there has been a series of reports in top-ranked journals with contradictory results supporting one or another mechanism. Furthermore, researchers are puzzled by the fact that the same couple of protein and microRNA demonstrate different mechanisms of regulation in different biological labs or in slightly changed experimental conditions.”
Professor Gorban added: “We have shown that what appeared to be very different mechanisms are in fact manifestations of one relatively simple biochemical reaction, but taking place in various contexts.
“Our model proposes that microRNA performs many actions simultaneously to the protein development, basically acting to get the job done (regulating the speed of protein production) in a stable and efficient way, given whatever conditions the experiment is occurring in.
“If this model is accepted, we would be able to take active steps in determining what the main mechanism of microRNA action is, as the model suggests experiments to verify the hypothesis. This in turn should lead to a resolution of a decade long debate to understand the means in which these very important molecules actually work.”