MicroRNAs and small interfering RNAs
Frank J. Slack
Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University
For the past 40 years, our understanding of biology has been driven by a certain set of rules known as “the central dogma”, which describes how the blueprint of life is encoded on DNA, which passages this information as RNA which is eventually read out as protein. Proteins have long been known to be the workhorses of the cell and it is proteins that in turn regulate the use of the DNA and RNA. At least one of these central tenants has required a revision in the past decade or so as biologist begin to appreciate the regulatory roles played by RNAs themselves. Long relegated to the passive role of messenger for the DNA, it is now clear that RNA performs many of the functions once thought solely in the domain of the proteins. One class of regulatory RNAs leading the charge is made up of very small molecules called microRNAs and small interfering RNAs. These RNAs control gene expression and protect us from the ravages of viral infections and cancer, among other things. Their recent discovery has electrified the biological community as we try to understand how small RNAs work in gene regulation, and determine how we can harness this technology to provide therapies for human disease and power tools to dissect biological processes.