(RxWiki News) Ever since the beginning of modern genetics, scientists believed that DNA encoded for proteins, and every protein had a task. It was that simple.
In recent years, there has been a lot of grey area added into what was formerly a basic field. In the highway of information that occurs between DNA and protein, there are rest stops, toll roads, detours, flat tires and speed traps.
"Ask your oncologist about their use of genetic sequencing."
Scientists from the research lab of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, founded by the fathers of molecular genetics, have recently documented that a surprising amount of DNA is transformed into molecular machinery that never makes it to the proteins stage.
Yet these intermediate forms are still extremely important to the cell, and are crucial to DNA editing and refinement.
For these reasons, scientists involved in genetics research have stopped using the term junk DNA, as most of it has a purpose or at least a good explanation for how it got there.
Investigating an important gene to the metastatic types of melanoma, BRAF V600E, led investigators down a rabbit hole of different influences, most of which were not proteins.
Some of these genetic detours, called long non-coding RNA, seem to be far more important than anyone had previously thought.
"By digging deeper than ever before, we found more than 100 genes encoding long non-coding RNAs that are dramatically altered by BRAFV600E," said Ross Flockhart, PhD.
Former attempts to research the relationship between the traditional genes that lead to proteins and the fuzzy non-coding realm have not been nearly as successful, and more research like this may open up a whole new field in the near future.
"Increased activation of the novel gene we discovered does not seem to be an isolated event," Flockhart noted. "It will be interesting to investigate if this is also the case in other cancers."
The gene BRAF V600E is important in melanoma, but the underlying genetic concepts at work in the influence of this gene on the normal day to day functions of the cell have universal application.
The team feels that the investigation has been productive just for the melanoma findings alone, and progress could be made in developing a drug to target the most important long non-coding RNA found, the BANCR gene, which seems to be very influential in the process of cellular migration that leads to tumor metastasis.
The manuscript was published online on Friday, May 11, 2012 in the journal Genome Research.
This work was supported by the United States Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development and by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.