A fascinating and unexpected outcome of the recent high throughput studies of the mammalian genomes have been the discovery of thousands of long non-protein-coding transcripts. It has been recently shown that over 70% of the genomes of human and higher eukaryotes are transcribed, but only 1.5% of the human genome codes for proteins. The rest, which is the vast majority of the human genomic output, are non-protein-coding RNAs. The majority of these RNAs are long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), mysterious and exciting molecules which remain mostly unstudied. It is becoming increasingly evident that these RNAs are playing highly critical roles in the cell, and recent data suggests that they form highly complex regulatory pathways that have made the enormous complexity of human body possible. In fact, there are some reports that suggest that these RNAs are responsible for us, humans, being different from other primates! Clearly, this intriguing discovery will have a huge impact on the way we think about cellular function.

We are interested in understanding the role of lncRNAs in mammalian cells, with particular emphasis on human and mouse lncRNAs. We have created a database of the lncRNAs studied to date (the Functional lncRNA database, which can be accessed through the link above, Niazi and Valadkhan, 2012), and have chosen a lncRNA for in-depth analysis.

Our studies on this lncRNA, which currently submitted for publication, indicates that it plays critical roles in regulation of differentiation in a number of cell types. We are currently working on understanding how this RNA performs its function. One of the lab members, Dr. Lalith Gunawardane, has developed a technique for capturing the proteins which associate with this lncRNA, and we are in the process of investigating the role of RNA-protein interactions in the function of this lncRNA.

In addition, we are performing a diverse range of structure-function studies, including imaging studies. A mouse model is also under development, which should reveal the role of this RNA in development and homeostasis in vivo.