Folks in the Baranov lab in County Cork, Ireland, were just reviewing old data they had lying around—you, know, as one does on a slow, boring afternoon—and they noticed something weird. The complexes within a cell that translate RNA into proteins were piling up at the end of the RNA, long past the portion that encodes the protein. Hmm.
Ribosomes and the genetic code
Many of the genes held in our DNA encode proteins. But the process of translating DNA into protein goes through an RNA intermediate. That RNA is read by a complex called the ribosome, which recognizes the information in the RNA and uses it to create a string of amino acids in a specific order—the protein encoded by the gene. So ribosomes play a critical role in gene activity.
To find out more about that role, Pavel Baranov invented ribosome profiling in 2009. It allows researchers to identify which RNAs in a given cell are being translated by isolating only those RNAs with ribosomes attached. It also allows them to assess the relative levels at which different regions of RNA are being translated.