RNA

Whitehead Fellow Kristin Knouse has received an NIH Director’s Early Independence Award. The award—part of the National Institute of Health (NIH) High-Risk, High-Reward Research program—was established in 2010 to enable exceptional junior scientists to move immediately into independent research positions. 

Researchers at Whitehead Institute have uncovered how small changes in the fish Argonaute (Ago) protein, an RNA slicing protein, that happened in its lineage an estimated 300 million years ago greatly diminished the efficiency of RNAi in these animals, while another ancestral feature, in a critical pre-microRNA, was retained that enabled the microRNA to still be produced despite the fish’s impaired Ago protein.

Whitehead Institute researchers report that 10 long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) play a vital role in the regulation of white fat cells. When each of these lncRNAs is individually knocked down, fat precursor cells fail to mature into white fat cells and have significantly reduced lipid droplets compared with white fat cells with unmodified lncRNA function.

Whitehead Institute scientists have identified the first microRNAs (miRs) that regulate the development of brown fat. Brown fat, which is found in small deposits in the neck, along the shoulders, and down the spine in adult humans, generates heat by burning the lipids. These miRs provide an opportunity to understand better how brown fat develops and may lead to methods for stimulating brown fat production to counter obesity.