RNA molecules are the mobile messengers of genes. They carry information on the production of proteins from the DNA to the ribosomes. In addition to these messenger RNAs all living beings have micro RNAs that can hinder the messenger RNAs and thus the production of proteins. Biologists at the University of Freiburg, Germany, around Lecturer Dr. Wolfgang Frank und Professor Dr. Ralf Reski from the Chair Plant Biotechnology have discovered that such micro RNAs also come into direct contact with genes, effectively turning off the genes in the process. Their findings have now been published in the current issue of the leading scientific journal CELL.
With the exception of some viruses all living beings store their hereditary information, the sum of all their genes, as DNA. Active genes are transcribed into messenger RNAs (mRNAs) that function as blueprints for the production of proteins on ribosomes. Inactive genes are not transcribed into mRNAs. The fine balance between switched-on and switched-off genes differs between organs and changes during development and under varying environmental conditions. When this balance is disturbed disfiguration and illnesses such as cancer occur. In 2006 the American biologists Mello & Fire were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery that minute RNA molecules in the worm C. elegans can attach themselves to mRNAs und thus hinder their translation into proteins.