Aug. 1 was a cel­e­bra­tion of the ver­sa­til­ity of ri­bonu­cleic acid (RNA)

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Health -

Wed­nes­day, Aug. 1 marked the first ever an­nual RNA Day, a cel­e­bra­tion of the vi­tal bi­o­log­i­cal mol­e­cule, ri­bonu­cleic acid. RNA is a close rel­a­tive of the com­monly known mol­e­cule, DNA (de­oxyri­bonu­cleic acid), and they, along with pro­tein, are the three ma­jor bi­o­log­i­cal mol­e­cules re­quired for life.

Stu­dents at the Al­berta RNA Re­search and Train­ing In­sti­tute (ARRTI) at the Univer­sity of Leth­bridge heard the call for an RNA Day cel­e­bra­tion and they stepped up to host sev­eral ac­tiv­i­ties in the com­mu­nity.

"I hope RNA Day (showed) the pub­lic more about re­search and how mem­bers of the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity are us­ing RNA to try and bet­ter the lives of peo­ple, in a wide range of ap­pli­ca­tions from medicine to agri­cul­ture," says Syd­nee Cal­houn, a fourth-year un­der­grad­u­ate study­ing bio­chem­istry. "Since this is the first RNA Day, I hope we con­tinue to build on this event for many years to come."

"I feel as though RNA Day is a great step­ping stone to­wards mak­ing RNA knowl­edge main­stream,” says Jes­sica Sem­mel­rock, a fourth-year in bio­chem­istry. “I'm look­ing for­ward to the cir­cu­la­tion of this knowl­edge, which I hope will bring the gen­eral pub­lic closer to the ex­cit­ing re­search that is go­ing on around them."

In ad­di­tion to this free pub­lic out­reach ac­tiv­ity, ARRTI also con­ducted a livestream of a sci­en­tific lec­ture. The RNA So­ci­ety and the or­ga­niz­ers of the Ri­bo­some Syn­the­sis Con­fer­ence have ar­ranged for the key­note lec­ture by Dr. Ed Hurt (Univer­sity of Hei­del­berg) to be shared live with the in­ter­na­tional RNA com­mu­nity. The talk was ti­tled “In­sights into the mech­a­nism of eu­kary­otic ri­bo­some bio­gen­e­sis”.

“RNA will play a crit­i­cal role in the new age of biotech­nol­ogy — the ra­tio­nal de­sign and engi­neer­ing of biomolec­u­lar-based sys­tems and molec­u­lar ma­chines,” says Dr. Hans-Joachim Wieden, the found­ing direc­tor of ARRTI. “The role of RNA in new and up­com­ing dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy has been fore­shad­owed by the re­cent com­mer­cial suc­cesses of the CRISPR ge­need­it­ing plat­form and the emer­gence of RNA-based ther­a­peu­tics and pes­ti­cides.”

The field of RNA re­search has been ex­pand­ing ever since it was iden­ti­fied as a mol­e­cule unique from DNA in the 1930s. Since 1957, there have been 31 No­bel Prizes for RNA Bi­ol­ogy, with nine No­bel Prizes in Chem­istry and 22 in Phys­i­ol­ogy or Medicine. In 1993, the RNA So­ci­ety was formed to fa­cil­i­tate shar­ing and dis­sem­i­na­tion of ex­per­i­men­tal re­sults and emerg­ing con­cepts in RNA re­search. The RNA So­ci­ety is a non­profit, in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific so­ci­ety with more than 1,800 mem­bers. It hosts a peer-re­viewed sci­en­tific jour­nal (RNA), an an­nual sci­en­tific con­fer­ence and is re­spon­si­ble for the dec­la­ra­tion of Aug. 1 as RNA Day.

At the U of L, RNA re­search is flour­ish­ing within the ARRTI, with eight re­search groups and more than 100 trainees work­ing on prob­lems re­lated to can­cer, an­tibi­otics, vi­ral in­fec­tions and agri­cul­ture.

“Many of the most-deadly viruses in the world have an RNA genome,” ex­plains Tyler Mro­zowich, a master’s stu­dent in the lab of Dr. Trushar Pa­tel. “The study of this ex­cep­tional mol­e­cule will help us un­der­stand these viruses, and ul­ti­mately, help us com­bat the dis­eases they cause.”

“For me, the great­est out­come of RNA re­search is the de­vel­op­ment of RNA ther­a­peu­tics,” says Chris Lind­gren, an­other master’s stu­dent in the Pa­tel lab. “To see some­one’s face when they learn that they have been cured of a dis­ease would make all the long days in the lab and the sleep­less nights worth­while.”

The sig­nif­i­cance of RNA re­search for the fu­ture of Cana­di­ans was en­dorsed by a $1.65-mil­lion train­ing grant, jointly held by the U of L and the Univer­sité de Sher­brooke. The grant will al­low these lead­ing RNAre­search in­sti­tu­tions to de­velop the RNA Bio­engi­neer­ing and In­no­va­tion Net­work Col­lab­o­ra­tive Re­search and Train­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence (CRE­ATE) to train job-ready lead­ers and in­no­va­tors in the field of biotech­nol­ogy.

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