Claremont, Calif. (December 7, 2012) — Pitzer College Assistant Professor Aaron Leconte recently published an article in Nature Chemical Biology about research techniques that could revolutionize scientific understanding of a fundamental building block in human cells. “Discovery and biological characterization of geranylated RNA in bacteria” describes research methods that combine mass spectrometry, chemical synthesis and enzymology in an effort to find and characterize a new form of chemically modified ribonucleic acid (RNA), a nucleic acid that is present in all living cells. Leconte teaches chemistry at Pitzer’s W.M. Keck Science Department.
Mass spectrometry-based techniques allow scientists to identify chemically-modified RNA that would not have been detectable using less sensitive methods. Leconte said that in the past 15-20 years, scientists’ understanding of RNA biology has grown exponentially. Previously, researchers thought that RNA’s primary job in a cell was to be made into a protein.
“We now know that the expression of between a third and half of all of the genes inside of people is, at some point, regulated by RNA that is never made into a protein,” Leconte said. “This ‘noncoding RNA’ is crucial for development and its mis-regulation can lead to cancer and other diseases. Mass spectrometry-based methods have the potential to play an important role in the discovery of new forms of modified RNA, leading to the continuing expansion of our understanding of noncoding RNA.”
Leconte penned the article with Christoph Dumelin, Yiyun Chen and Grace Chen from David R. Liu’s laboratory in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. He has co-authored more than a dozen articles and has been recognized with the ARCS Foundation Fellowship and the NIH Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award.
The W.M. Keck Science Department is a joint program of Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College and Scripps College.
Nature Chemical Biology
About the W.M. Keck Science Department
The W.M. Keck Science Department is the interdisciplinary home to all biology, chemistry, and physics faculty for Pitzer, Claremont McKenna and Scripps colleges. The department is administered cooperatively and is housed within an 81,000-square-foot center located at the intersection of the three colleges. The department offers 13 discrete degree options, including dual-degree programs in partnership with schools of engineering and majors in conjunction with disciplines outside the sciences. The W.M. Keck Science Department provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary instruction in small class settings and numerous opportunities for students to conduct research.