(12 June 2020) The EU is funding a four-year "International Training Network" (ITN), led by the University of Trento (ITA). MedUni Vienna is one of the participating institutions. The project entitled "roles of epitranscriptomics in diseases" (ROPES) investigates the role of RNA modifications and their influence on physiology and pathology.
Ribonucleic acids (RNAs) are copied from DNA, where genetic information is stored. RNAs are then converted into proteins or are themselves active as regulatory molecules in the cell.
Until recently, it was assumed that the information stored in DNA is retained largely unchanged in RNA. However, research findings from the past two decades have shown that RNAs can be chemically modified in many different ways. These chemical changes can affect the stability of RNAs and also change the genetic information contained therein. Since chemical modifications are dynamically installed in RNA – and can also be erased –, this process offers organisms and their cells the ability to react rapidly to changing environments and to adapt their genetic programs. On the other hand, erroneously or incorrectly installed chemical modifications can lead to pathological changes. The dynamic chemical modification of RNAs is therefore also referred to as the epitranscriptome since information that is not anchored in the genome can be installed on transcribed RNAs.
Under the ROPES project, 12 young scientists will be trained in epitranscriptome research at 11 European research institutes. The training will encompass the identification of chemical modifications, their bioinformatic analysis, their study using model organisms, right through to investigating what role changing the epitranscriptome plays in the development of disease.
The working group led by Michael Jantsch at MedUni Vienna is investigating how RNA modifications help the immune system to distinguish between the cell's own nucleic acids and those of infectious organisms and viruses. Within the International Training Network, PhD students will study the exact process by which the innate immune system recognises foreign RNA and how faulty installation of modifications can lead to disease.