In a new study published in Cell, researchers at Cornell University report that RNA can be methylated just like DNA, says New Scientist's Andy Coghlan. Senior author Samie Jaffrey and his team found that around 20 percent of all RNA produced in rat brain cells and human kidney cells have methylated adenosine, Coghlan says. When the researchers further analyzed rat tissues, they found the methylated RNA concentrated in the brain, liver, and kidneys. In addition, methylation appears to plays a significant role in development, as concentrations of methylated RNA rose 70-fold in rat embryo brains in the final stages of growth. "The researchers found that methylated adenosine tended to cluster close to the point on the RNA strand where protein manufacture reaches completion, and on regions where other proteins bind to the strand to alter or halt production," Coghlan adds. "The suggestion is that methylation may therefore dictate how much protein gets made, and when."
"We've discovered something fundamental to biology," Jaffrey tells Coghlan. "It was there all the time and no one knew about it."