Dr. Gigi Storz: RNA-mediated regulation within protein-coding sequences

Live Blogger: Liz Tidwell

Editor: Henry Ertl

Because they do not encode instructions for protein products, the role of non-coding RNA in biological processes was overlooked for decades. With the discovery of regulatory RNA, such as small RNA in bacteria (sRNA), noncoding RNAs (ncRNA) are starting to be appreciated for their role in gene regulation. During her talk at the University of Michigan’s 2022 RNA Symposium, Dr. Gigi Storz presented compelling data to extend the limited definition of sRNA: sRNA within translated regions, some of which may be coding something after all.

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Dr. Michelle Hastings: Tiny genetic patches for the treatment of disease

Live Blogger: Christian Greenhill

Editor: Emily Eberhardt

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

A tiny “genetic patch” can be used to cure common diseases that affect millions of people. At the 6th Annual RNA Symposium, Dr. Michelle Hastings gives us a taste of what goes on in her lab in the Windy City at the Chicago Medical School. The @HastingsLab focuses on designing tiny “genetic patches,” or oligonucleotides, to repair genetic processes that lead to severe neurodegenerative diseases, such as Usher syndrome, Batten’s disease, and cystic fibrosis. Over the last decade, Dr. Hastings’ work has led to numerous patents and FDA-approved therapies to improve symptoms associated with these diseases. Her work demonstrates that RNA is a powerful platform and target for future therapeutics.

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Dr. Wendy Gilbert: The 5′ UTR region of mRNA controls gene expression

Live Blogger: Emily Eberhardt

Editor: Christian Greenhill

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

Dr. Wendy Gilbert’s lab Twitter biography is simple: We love RNA. However, the intricate details of mRNA specific regulation are complex and tightly-regulated. Dr. Wendy Gilbert starts her presentation with a bold image of a female superhero with the title “Control.” It is immediately clear that she is passionate about her lab’s research and seeks to understand the control of mRNA regulation in the process of translation. Dr. Gilbert has good reason to be interested in better understanding this process, as misregulation has dire consequences: heritable diseases and cancer. 

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Dr. Chris Burge: The impact of RNA-binding proteins on human genomic variation

Live Blogger: Henry Ertl

Editor: Liz Tidwell

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

The genetic code for amino acids was cracked in the mid-20th century. Since then, biologists have had much more difficulty deciphering the code of gene regulation–when, where, and how much a gene is expressed. This problem is made difficult in part due to the relative complexity of gene regulation, which is primarily carried out by both protein-DNA and protein-RNA interactions. Chris Barge’s lab at MIT works on the protein-RNA part of this problem by applying experimental and computational approaches to ask: what are the genetic determinants and consequences of RNA binding protein (RBP) binding to RNAs? 

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Dr. Jack Szostak: The emergence of RNA from heterogenous prebiotic chemistry

Live Blogger: Jennifer Baker

Editor: Madeline Barron

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

When Dr. Jack Szostak is asked to start at the beginning, he takes that request seriously. In the first keynote address of the 6th annual RNA Symposium, Dr. Szostak took attendees back to the beginning of RNA itself. While this may seem like a strange decision to people attending a symposium centered around the future of RNA therapeutics, Dr. Szostak knows the wisdom of this approach well. 

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Hold the Salt

Written by: Daniela Tapia Pitzzu

Illustrated by: Devon Hucek

Edited by: Sarah Bassiouni, Olivia Alge, Peijin Han, and Madeline Barron

During high school chemistry, my teacher gave the class a handout describing the perils of dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). There were reports of DHMO causing suffocation, proving fatal if inhaled. This parody on water (which has the molecular name dihydrogen monoxide) was to advocate for science literacy. However, there was another buried message: even one of the most innocuous of chemicals can be dangerous if used improperly. 

Enter chloride. Not chlorine gas, not vinyl chloride, but sodium’s better half, the chloride in sodium chloride (table salt). 

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The Henrietta Lacks Estate vs Thermo Fisher: An update on the conversation surrounding the origin of HeLa cells

Written by: Christina Del Greco

Edited by: Ryan Schildcrout, Henry Ertl, and Madeline Barron 

Illustrated by: Katie Bonefas 

On October 4, 2021, Henrietta Lacks’ estate filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific, accusing them of selling products containing Henrietta Lacks’ cells (HeLa cells) for profit, despite the fact that the cells were taken without her consent. Nor, they say, has Thermo Fisher asked for the family’s consent even after the origin of HeLa cells became controversial. HeLa cells can sell for over $2000/mL, contributing significantly to Thermo Fisher’s annual revenue of over $35 billion per year. This lawsuit represents many of the ethical issues that have repeatedly arisen regarding the origin of HeLa cells. As such, to understand the lawsuit, we have to understand the history and significance of the cells themselves.

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How does light present as color?

Written by: Saaj Chattopadhyay

Edited by: Christina Del Greco, Will Dana, Kane York, and Madeline Barron

Illustrated by: Jacquelyn Roberts


Roses are red, violets are blue

Are they really? We might see different hues! 


Recently, I was careless enough to think I lost my credit card while traveling so I ordered a new one. The customer service representative asked if I wanted an image on the card and pointed me to the large library of options. My eyes skimmed the web page and settled on the image of Claude Monet’s beautiful impressionist painting “The Artist’s Garden at Giverny,” and sure enough, two weeks later, I had a gorgeous new credit card. What caught my eye in the painting was the brilliant use of purple, one of my favorite colors, to depict the irises that covered his garden. His blending of paints ensures that the longer you stare at the painting, the more colors you see. It made me appreciate how our eyes and brain work together to project such a vibrant reality.

“The Artist’s Garden at Giverny” by Claude Monet (Source)

Color is the result of how our brains process light entering our eyes. There are two sides of the story: what type of light is entering our eye, and how our eyes perceive the collected light. Thus, to understand color, we first have to understand light. 

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Distinguishing between contemporary and historical agricultural crop development: an evolutionary perspective

Written by: Henry Ertl

Edited by: Ryan Schildcrout, Madeline Cooke, Austin Shannon, and Madeline Barron

There are many reasons why I’m not proud of shopping at Whole Foods. Near the top of this list are the “GMO-free” icons plastered everywhere denoting that a given food product is free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Even though GMOs are increasingly common, people of many backgrounds have strong feelings against GMOs, claiming they’re unsafe, unethical, or unnatural. Perhaps the only group consistently advocating for GMOs (aside from the CEOs of big agricultural companies with billions of dollars at stake) are scientists driving their technological advancement.

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Brain Myth 1 – Dopamine and Serotonin: The (Not Just) Happy Chemicals

Written by: Kane York

Illustrated by: Emma Thornton-Kolbe

Editors: Christian Greenhill, Kristen Loesel, and Jennifer Baker

Hey there, reader! This is the first in a series of articles addressing common myths about the brain. You can find my previous article here, in which I discuss the complexity of depression. Expect more to be coming soon! Enjoy reading.

Imagine eating a jelly donut. Imagine your first kiss. Imagine getting a good performance review from your boss. In each case, you may feel a sense of happiness, joy, or pleasure. Now, think about the brain functions that cause these happy feelings. You might guess that each of these scenarios triggers an instant boost of dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin are two of the most talked about (and two of the most misunderstood) neurotransmitters, the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate. Yes, dopamine is associated with pleasure and serotonin with mood, but to stop there would be missing the full picture. Like many myths, there is some truth here. However, these molecules have a much richer role in the body and behavior than just the happy feelings.

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