How Non-coding RNA Remodels Chromatin

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  • 0:00 Non-Coding RNA
  • 1:18 Non-Coding RNA and…
  • 2:28 Chromatin Remodeling
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How do cells turn bundles of genetic information into a new cell? It's a complex process, and an important part of this is chromatin remodeling, a process we'll look at in this lesson.

Non-Coding RNA

Creating a building is a pretty complicated process. You start with the blueprints, then lay the foundation, and piece-by-piece turn an idea into something large, complex and totally awesome. Well, as sophisticated a process as this is, it's nothing compared to the ways that cells build up complete organisms. At the most basic level, we start with the blueprints of an organism, the DNA. But, there's more to it. Similar to DNA is another molecule involved in the coding, regulation, activation of genes called ribonucleic acid, or RNA. During the process of transcription, DNA is turned into RNA, which is then translated into various proteins. Basically, DNA are the blueprints containing genes, the instructions, and RNA is the foundation upon which we start building up the actual structure. That's this process in a nutshell. However, some RNA is a bit different. RNA molecules that are not translated into proteins are called non-coding RNA. This makes them unique, but like every part of a building, the final structure wouldn't be the same without them.

Non-Coding RNA and Gene Expression

Now, let's look at this process a little more closely. Within every cell nucleus is the complete genome, or entire set of DNA for that individual. But, each cell doesn't need all of that information. Only the genes relevant to that cell are actually activated, or expressed. RNA has long been known to have a major role in gene expression, but recently, researchers have been paying more attention to the impact of various kinds of RNA. The regular RNA that turns genetic information into proteins is called messenger RNA, or mRNA. Genes expressed through mRNA generally become part of the cell, unless non-coding RNA gets involved. Non-coding RNA is able to unwind parts of the mRNA, making the molecule look like a foreign object to the cell. Anyone who's studied biology 101 knows what happens when cells sense foreign objects. They destroy them. So, non-coding RNA can be used to stop the completion of genes already being expressed by the mRNA.

Non-Coding RNA and Chromatin Remodeling

So, each kind RNA has its own role in expressing or silencing various genes contained within the DNA strands inside a cell's nucleus. However, non-coding RNA may actually have a few other ways to do this as well. To understand this, we're going to have to look at chromatin, bundles of DNA wrapped around histone proteins. Chromatin are essentially how genetic information is packaged within the cell, and it's constantly being remodeled, reshaped and altered, to allow for the expression of different genes. The role of non-coding RNA on chromatin remodeling is still a growing field of research, so scientists are not completely sure how this works. But, it is becoming more apparent that non-coding RNA are involved in the creation of different kinds of chromatin.

What are the different kinds of chromatin? Basically, there are the chromatin that contain genes that will be expressed, and then there are those that don't. The majority of chromatin are euchromatin, lightly packed chromatin that is generally actively being transcribed into proteins. However, your cells also have heterochromatin, tightly packed chromatin that generally contain silenced genes. Heterochromatin holds the genes that will not be transcribed, but both of these now appear to be actively influenced by non-coding RNA.

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