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Long segments of RNA— encoded in our DNA but not translated into protein—are key to physically manipulating DNA in order to activate certain genes, say researchers at The Wistar Institute.
At any given time, most of the roughly 30,000 genes that constitute the human genome are inactive, or repressed, closed to the cellular machinery that transcribes genes into the proteins of the body. In an average cell, only about one in ten genes is active, or expressed, at any given moment, with its DNA open to the cell' transcriptional machinery.
One of the body's primary strategies for regulating its genome is a kind of targeted gene silencing orchestrated by small molecules called microRNAs, or miRNAs. First observed only a few years ago, these molecules appear to inactivate messenger RNA, itself responsible for translating genes into proteins. Scientists have been eager to know more about miRNAs, clearly important players on the genetic field despite having gone unnoticed for so long.