Whitehead Institute researchers have determined that DNA transcription, the process that produces messenger RNA (mRNA) templates used in protein production, also runs in the opposite direction along the DNA to create corresponding long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). Moreover, the mRNAs and lncRNAs are transcribed coordinately as stem cells differentiate into other cell types. This surprising finding could redefine our understanding of gene organization and its regulation.
“It’s a surprise to me that genes come in pairs,” says Whitehead Member Richard Young, who is also a professor of biology at MIT. “At any one of the 20,000 protein-coding genes that are active in human stem cells, a lncRNA gene located upstream is also transcribed.