Censors of the Genome; August 2003; Scientific American Magazine; by Nelson C. Lau and David P. Bartel; 8 Page(s)
Observed on a microscope slide, a living cell appears serene. But underneath its tranquil facade, it buzzes with biochemical chatter. The DNA genome inside every cell of a plant or animal contains many thousands of genes. Left to its own devices, the transcription machinery of the cell would express every gene in the genome at once: unwinding the DNA double helix, transcribing each gene into single-stranded messenger RNA and, finally, translating the RNA messages into their protein forms.
No cell could function amid the resulting cacophony. So cells muzzle most genes, allowing an appropriate subset to be heard. In most cases, a gene's DNA code is transcribed into messenger RNA only if a particular protein assemblage has docked onto a special regulatory region in the gene.