Biology

Entirely new class of biomolecule may be common to all forms of life

Entirely new class of biomolec...
A model of the surface of a cell, including gycoproteins (yellow), which are related to the newly discovered biomolecule, glycoRNA
A model of the surface of a cell, including gycoproteins (yellow), which are related to the newly discovered biomolecule, glycoRNA
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A model of the surface of a cell, including gycoproteins (yellow), which are related to the newly discovered biomolecule, glycoRNA
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A model of the surface of a cell, including gycoproteins (yellow), which are related to the newly discovered biomolecule, glycoRNA
An illustration of the newly discovered biomolecules, glycoRNAs, along with the related glycoproteins and glycolipids
2/2
An illustration of the newly discovered biomolecules, glycoRNAs, along with the related glycoproteins and glycolipids

Scientists continue to make surprising discoveries in our own bodies. Stanford researchers have now discovered a new biomolecule hiding in plain sight, which may be common to most types of life and could play a role in autoimmune diseases in humans.

Dubbed glycoRNA, the new biomolecule is made up of sugar molecules attached to a section of RNA. These are formed through a process called glycosylation that, until now, was only thought to happen to proteins or lipids. The resulting biomolecules play a role in a range of biological processes in animal, plant and microbial cells, which suggests that the new glycoRNA molecules are doing something equally important.

“This is a stunning discovery of an entirely new class of biomolecules,” says Carolyn Bertozzi, senior author of the study. “It’s really a bombshell because the discovery suggests that there are biomolecular pathways in the cell that are completely unknown to us.”

The researchers say that glycoRNAs have eluded discovery for so long because the two components – glycans and RNA – operate in different parts of cells, so biologists assumed they didn’t come into contact with each other. But for the new study, the team investigated the possibility that there was some overlap.

An illustration of the newly discovered biomolecules, glycoRNAs, along with the related glycoproteins and glycolipids
An illustration of the newly discovered biomolecules, glycoRNAs, along with the related glycoproteins and glycolipids

Researcher Ryan Flynn noticed that an enzyme that glycosylates some proteins also binds to RNA, so he wondered whether it might also be glycosylating that RNA. He attached fluorescent tags to various glycans to keep track of what they’re binding to, and found a signal indicating RNA was a target for many of these sugar molecules.

The team identified the new glycoRNAs in cells in humans, mice, hamsters and zebrafish. That variety of animals indicates that these biomolecules must be performing an important role, and it must have arisen in the ancient past, before we all split off from our last common ancestor.

Exactly what glycoRNAs do in the body remains unknown, but scientists plan to investigate further. The team has a suspicion that they may be involved in autoimmune diseases, since some of the RNAs that are becoming glycosylated are known targets for the immune system in patients with lupus. Further studies could open up new potential treatment opportunities.

The research was published in the journal Cell.

Source: Stanford University

6 comments
6 comments
guzmanchinky
How amazing is it that we are still finding new things about our own bodies? Wait until we really start figuring out the brain's deepest secrets...
Signguy
Amazing that science missed the obvious! Just goes to show our ignorance!
Kevin Ritchey
Hate to guess what is already being missed. Happens when studies become too focused on something really obscure and ignoring the obvious. Such is the nature of getting grants.
Christian Lassen
Meh, not so groundbreaking as I was hoping to read about. Glyco-molecules are all over and we've known about them for a long time. This is just confirmation that, yes, RNA can be glycolated like DNA, Protein, Fats, and everything else.
Karmudjun
Relax - Science moves slowly and codifies the learned knowledge. Then someone of note like Dr. Rob't Koch comes up with a means of identification like the Koch Postulates for infection. Also similar to the CDC & WHO's mistaken belief that any disease aerosol larger than 5 microns could only spread 3-6 feet (even after Skagit Washington Choir practice with >90% infection rate from one person to the rehearsal participants!) - these laws or rules give a deep understanding of a biological phenomena - and are celebrated for decades - and then science sees beyond and discovers viruses as in the Tobacco Mosaic Virus - or learn that even outdoors SARS-CoV-2 can spread up to 20 feet or so in no wind if someone is yelling or singing. RNA is short lived in cells, and cells have been studied for decades. DNA was "known" but not understood for many years and we are still exploring ways to manipulate DNA. glycosolating RNA is an easy chemical process - but what it does - requires really in depth, well funded study. It took years to discover how insulin worked - specific receptors on certain cells - and even longer to determine how metabolic syndrome develops. Breakthroughs in science do need to be verified and understood - we attempted DNA manipulation a few decades ago and ended up doing more harm than good.

As a physician I too wonder what we don't know and what is 'staring us in the face'. But science always moves 'too slow', but life is not guaranteed and medicine will not prove to be the complete path to a long life - it is easier to be a "good doctor" when patients do not engage in self destructive lifestyles, diets, and behaviors.
ljaques
Right, Guz. Wait until they find the hidden Matrix jack in the back. // I love that pic. Smurf & friends orgy in a golden forest.