Alexei A. Aravin
Biogenesis and Functions of small non-coding RNAs
Abundance of small RNAs was realized only recently, however, now it is clear that they play essential role in regulation of gene expression in normal and disease states. Small RNAs recognize target RNA molecules and affect its stability and functions. Animal cells naturally express many small RNA species that are crucial for maintaining of gene regulatory networks. Furthermore, small RNA produced artificially can be used to suppress genes of interest with high specificity.
We use fruit-fly (Drosophila) and mouse models to understand biogenesis of small RNAs and their roles in regulation of gene expression and epigenetic states of the cell. Few years ago we have discovered new class of small RNA, Piwi-interacting (pi)RNA. piRNAs are expressed in germline cells and are required for animal fertility. piRNAs repress activity of transposable elements, genomic parasites that occupy roughly half of human DNA. If not suppressed by piRNA, transposons become active generating new mutations and damaging DNA. We are interested in two general questions: biogenesis and function of small non-coding RNAs. Our lab is also studying transposable elements and their role in the cell.