Functions and Evolution of micro-RNAs

Type of Award: Catalyst
Award Number:
Award Period: July 2006 - June 2008
Amount Awarded: $ 200,000.00
PI(s): Richard I. Carthew, PhD, NU; San Ming Wang, MD, NU; Chung-I Wu, PhD, UChicago;

Abstract: In the last century, geneticists have successfully unraveled the molecular basis of many important traits, including some of the most devastating human diseases. Most of these are simple traits that are associated with severe defects in single genes. However, the majority of important and interesting traits, including most hereditary diseases and normal variations among humans, have very complex genetic bases. Hence, searching for groups of genes that can generate complex traits is a potentially rewarding avenue of research. The existence of microRNAs, one of the most fascinating genetic discoveries of the last decade, is promising in this respect. Each microRNA controls a very large number of target genes but all microRNAs carry out the task in much the same way. It is therefore a mechanism that can generate complexity but may at the same time be fundamentally simple. Our research aims at finding out how microRNAs may vary in their production and function between closely related species, or even among members of the same species. Such variability may potentially account for some of the variation in traits, including disease propensity, among individuals.