Brussels, 23 Mar 2005
As scientists worldwide discover more about the role of ribonucleic acids (RNA) in genetics, health, disease and the development of organisms, research in this field is developing exponentially. The constantly growing body of knowledge has therefore created the need for researchers to develop a common language.
An international team of RNA scientists has now formed the RNA Ontology Consortium to develop a shared vocabulary and system for describing, cataloguing and comparing their findings.
'The consortium will develop a common vocabulary and scientific concepts relating RNA structure and function to allow RNA scientists worldwide to communicate with one another as well as to integrate different kinds of information they obtain about RNA molecules,' explained Neocles Leontis, from the Bowling Green State University in the US who heads the consortium.
'This,' added Dr Leontis, 'will make it easier to turn molecular information into useful knowledge that can help us to understand how different cells grow and develop as they do. This knowledge is key to curing hereditary diseases.'
The five-year project includes scientists from the US, UK, France, Canada and Australia.
As Dr Leontis explains, creating the RNA Ontology will require the consortium to incorporate the methods and vocabularies of chemists, molecular biologists, genomicists, information scientists and structural biologists. The team will identify all RNA motifs (or repeated patterns) mentioned in the literature or appearing in databases, and agree upon and write a definition for each. The consortium's work will be accessible online.
Currently, some researchers focus on the sequences of RNA molecules, while others study their three-dimensional structures. The project will therefore focus on integrating the databases of RNA sequences and 3D structure.
RNA molecules are 'the software controlling how the genes are expressed to make proteins,' says Dr Leontis. Their uniqueness lies in their ability to store and transmit information as well as process that information. The continuous discovery of new RNA molecules with novel biological functions is beginning to show that RNA plays far more roles than originally thought, and the possible applications of this newly generated knowledge are enormous.
RNA science is already playing an important role in understanding normal and abnormal metabolism and physiology and in designing new strategies for intervention in the form of gene therapy, Dr Leontis concluded.