With the advent of next generation sequencing technology and the completion of the human genome project, it became clear that only 2% of our genome encodes proteins. In defiance of this the vast majority of our genetic information is actively transcribed. This underscores that cells devote significant energy to the production of RNAs that do not encode proteins. While the biology of some of these so-called non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) is already fairly well established, others are just being discovered and their roles are mostly elusive.
Since many ncRNAs are involved in diseases ranging from cancer to neurological disorders we address this lack of knowledge with a combination of biochemistry, structural biology and in vivo experiments. We are particularly interested in how ncRNAs are able to switch genes on or off by interfering with eukaryotic transcription.
Graphical Summary of Current Research. The three classes of ncRNA under investigation are highlighted in red, the respective step of eukaryotic transcription that they regulate is indicated on top. Major medical implications are listed below the cartoons that sketch their principal biological role. (Abbreviations: Me = histone H3K9me3, Start = transcription start site, GTF = general transcription factors, P = phosphorylation status of Pol II, NELF = negative elongation factor).