RNA vs DNA: Not what you think

When I took genetics way back in 2003, we were taught a very simple idea of the function of RNA, DNA, and proteins. We discussed, a little, how mapping the human genome did not really work out the way we planned, because the folding of proteins was more complicated than we thought.

Fast forward 7 years and that little fact has become a full-blown revolution in our understanding of genetics. And it has set us back a long way. You know all those theories about how we would have the blueprints for life? Yeah. We don't. We didn't really have much at all. We had taken a picture of a skyscraper and assumed that we knew how everything worked inside. Turns out, we were wrong. Really wrong.

We were wrong first on the proteins. But we turns out we were also wrong with the RNA. Of the past few years a lot has come out about how RNA is much more important, in a number of different roles, than was originally thought.

Turns out that RNA is not just the office copy boy, the crazy SOB has some decision authority as well. A central dogma of genetics is that RNA copies the DNA, and then heads over to other parts of the cell, and has itself turned into proteins. The reasons for this is pretty simple: you dont want the original copy of the blueprints being used out at the work-site: its going to get torn up, covered in coffee, and then forgotten under a lunchbox somewhere. Now we are finding that RNA is not a faithful copy of DNA: it has a tendency of switching around letters (especially G and A).

A study of RNA in white blood cells from 27 different people shows that, on average, each person has nearly 4,000 genes in which the RNA copies contain misspellings not found in DNA. Which is a lot.

To break down what this means? The whole damn thing is really friggin complicated, and it might be a long time before we really have it all figured out. Which sucks, because I really want my own set of wings.

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