Israeli-German project invetsigates the role of intracellular players in reading mRNA

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More than 1,000 players are involved in a cell when genetic information is translated into proteins. A new German-Israeli research project is now working on systematically identifying their respective tasks.

When genetic information in human cells is transported from the cell nucleus into the cytoplasm and translated into proteins, one particular molecule plays a central role: mRNA, or messenger RNA. However, in order for this mRNA to do its job according to plan, it needs a lot of support. In recent years, scientists have identified around 1,000 different participants that are involved in this process.

A new German-Israeli research project has set itself the goal of deciphering their function and structure in detail. Research groups from the universities of Regensburg and Würzburg and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel near Tel Aviv are involved in the project. Professor Utz Fischer, holder of the Chair of Biochemistry, is at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) responsible for the project.

The findings that Fischer and his colleagues hope to gain in the coming years are correspondingly broadly applicable. Ultimately, conclusions can be drawn about the normal and defective development of organisms. The processes play a role in infections and in the development of tumours. And they are also relevant for the development of new vaccines.

‘As the coronavirus pandemic has shown, mRNAs are hugely important for the development of new vaccines,’ explains Utz Fischer. An understanding of sequence elements and mRNA modifications is a prerequisite for the design of stable mRNAs that work according to plan. For this reason, the four research groups will not only investigate the function of RNA-binding proteins. Their program also aims to identify and test stabilizing and destabilizing RNA elements and modifications.

The research project ‘Quantitative and mechanistic dissection of messenger RNA stability’ is scheduled to run for 5 years; the four groups involved have a total of 1.6 million euros at their disposal. In addition to Utz Fischer, the following scientists are involved: Professor Gunter Meister, Institute of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Regensburg, as well as Professors and RNA experts Igor Ulitsky and Schraga Schwartz from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF); the scientific and administrative responsibility – and therefore also the decision on approval – lies with the German Research Foundation DFG within the framework of the German-Israeli Project Cooperation (DIP).

Source and additional information: University of Würzburg