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What's new in May 2021

New connection between metabolism and red blood cell development

Microscopy image of zebrafish embryo.
Each tissue in the body has different requirements for metabolism, or how it uses energy to function — for example, a muscle needs different molecules to fuel a contraction compared to a pancreas that produces insulin. Even though metabolic pathways may be the same across tissues, it is not fully understood how each tissue regulates which one to predominantly use for its own specific needs. Now, researchers led by HSCI’s Leonard Zon have found a new connection between metabolism and red blood cell development.
  • What they did: The researchers studied zebrafish model of anemia, which was defective in producing red blood cells because it lacked a specific DNA-binding protein.
  • What they found: The researchers identified the detailed mechanism for how red blood cell precursors use the DNA-binding protein to control metabolism in the mitochondria. 
  • Why it matters: This pathway can be potentially targeted in diseases such as anemia to restore red blood cell production, as well as certain types of cancer.

Discovery of sugar-coated RNA molecules opens up new area of cell biology

Illustration of molecules attached to the cell surface.
Cells in our body bristle with sugars known as glycans that other cells can recognize via specialized receptors. By attaching to and modifying proteins and fats, glycans influence how proteins fold, how cues are sent between cells, and other cell-to-cell interactions. New research led by HSCI’s Ryan Flynn has revealed a whole new universe of sugar-coated molecules that attach to our cells, called glycosylated RNAs or glycoRNAs.
  • What they did: The researchers identified that glycoRNAs consist of small, noncoding RNAs — which are known to play regulatory roles inside cells — coated with a class of sugars known as N-glycans.
  • What they found: The glycoRNAs interacted with certain receptors on immune cells, suggesting that the molecules could help fine-tune the immune system and play a role in autoimmune disease.
  • Why it matters: The discovery opens up another dimension for exploring how our bodies work and the origins of disease.
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