There are many parts of the genetic code in humans and other organisms that we still fail to understand. Scientists had previously labeled a large portion of the genetic material in zebrafish “junk” because its function was not known to us. The article named “New Genetic Regulators of Regeneration Identified” published in Science Daily describes how a recent study explains that these “junk” genes that were previously overlooked, carry out the very important function of cardiac regeneration. Dr. Yin and Dr. King looked more closely at the role of the ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules that are responsible for the regulation and expression of genes in their article in Nature titled “RegenDbase: a comparative database of noncoding RNA regulation of tissue regeneration circuits across multiple taxa.” The researchers studied the role of two distinct types of RNA in zebrafish heart regeneration: microRNAs and long noncoding RNAs. As a result of their work, they introduced RegenDbase, a database containing gene sequences and regulatory pathways within and across tissues and research models, with a strong focus on noncoding RNAs. They called this tool an “instruction manual” for regeneration that can potentially be applied to other organisms in the future.
This study has very important implications in how we understand regeneration and how we go about finding a better solution for heart disease in humans. According to the study, the protein-coding genes in human cells are quite similar to the ones in the cells of zebrafish. The distinguishing factor that allows these organisms to regenerate their hearts is how these genes are regulated by their non-coding RNAs. This approach is a very interesting one that my group can investigate further. With a better understanding of the specific genes that are responsible for the regeneration of cells in zebrafish, we may be able to create drugs that trigger the same pathways in humans.