April 2011

Special Symposium: Gene regulation by noncoding RNAs

Sessions will cover a variety of topics including the biogenesis of small noncoding RNAs and genetic, genomic and biochemical approaches to post-transcriptional silencing mediated by siRNAs.

Richard Carthew Jennifer Doudna

Traditionally, RNA has been thought of as a molecule that imparts information, structure or catalytic activities. However, it has become apparent that RNA also can directly regulate gene expression. In eukaryotes, it mediates widespread defense against transposable elements and viruses, organizes the genome, and serves to regulate the expression of cellular protein-coding genes. Small RNAs that participate in this process are made up of 21 to 27 nucleotide fragments and are processed from double-stranded precursor molecules. Once formed, these siRNAs, piRNAs and miRNAs associate with cellular proteins and guide those proteins to complementary nucleic acids (chromosomal DNA or mRNA transcripts) and repress the target nucleic acids. The impact of small noncoding RNAs has profoundly touched the fields of development and cell biology, functional genomics, human disease and drug therapy.

The “Gene regulation by noncoding RNAs” meeting will feature keynote speaker Phillip D. Zamore from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is a world leader in the study of small RNAs, combining elegant genetics and biochemistry to understand the molecular mechanisms of RNA silencing.

The sessions will begin with talks describing the biogenesis of small noncoding RNAs featuring some of the latest advances in miRNA and piRNA mechanisms. With crystallographic and biochemical approaches, we have not only learned how small RNA processing occurs but also much more about how small RNA-Argonaute complexes associate with target RNAs and catalyze their silencing. A structure-function session will feature Dinshaw Patel of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute, who is a pioneer in crystallographic studies of RNA-Argonaute complexes.

Gene regulation by noncoding RNAs
Oct. 27 – 30, 2010
Tahoe City, Calif.
Oral and poster abstract submission deadline: Aug. 1, 2011
Early registration deadline: Aug. 1, 2011

Sessions also will explore genetic, genomic and biochemical approaches to post-transcriptional silencing mediated by siRNAs and will feature Andrew Fire of Stanford University, who is a co-discoverer of RNAi and Nobel laureate. Other sessions will focus on insights into how miRNAs repress mRNA transcript stability and translation. Given the lively and spirited debate about this topic in the miRNA field, the sessions promise to stimulate discussion both formally and informally. Two featured speakers recently have written thoughtful reviews on this subject and will discuss their discoveries, which are influencing the field.  Finally, small noncoding RNAs are not limited to regulating post-transcriptional gene expression. Steve Jacobsen of the University of California, Los Angeles and Xumei Chen of the University of California, Riverside will speak on transcriptional silencing in a session devoted to nuclear regulation. Fungal, plant and animal systems will be featured.

Session talks also will be chosen from submitted abstracts, providing a great avenue for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and investigators with their own independent programs to present their work either orally or as posters. Overall, the goal of this meeting is to promote sharing of ideas and discoveries between biochemists, molecular biologists, geneticists and systems biologists working in the field of small RNA biology.

Richard Carthew (r-carthew@northwestern.edu) is a professor at Northwestern University. Jennifer Doudna (doudna@berkeley.edu) is a professor at the University of California Berkeley and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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