14.17 Pre-mRNA encoded by the calcitonin gene undergoes alternative processing.
information is transcribed into mRNA, and mRNA is then translated into a protein. The assumption that all information about the amino acid sequence of a protein resides in DNA is violated by a process called RNA editing. In RNA editing, the coding sequence of an mRNA molecule is altered after transcription, and so the protein has an amino acid sequence that differs from that encoded by the gene.
RNA editing was first detected in 1986 when the coding sequences of mRNAs were compared with the coding sequences of the DNAs from which they had been transcribed. Discrepancies were found for some nuclear genes in mammalian cells and for mitochondrial genes in plant cells. In these cases, substitutions had occurred in some of the nucleotides of the mRNA. More extensive RNA editing has been found in the mRNA for some mitochondrial genes in trypanosome parasites (which cause African sleeping sickness). In some mRNAs of these organisms, more than 60% of the sequence is determined by RNA editing. Different types of RNA editing have now been observed in mRNAs, tRNAs, and rRNAs from a wide range of organisms; they include the insertion and the deletion of nucleotides and the conversion of one base into another.
If the modified sequence in edited RNA molecules doesn't come from a DNA template, then how is it specified? There are a variety of mechanisms that may bring about changes in RNA sequences. In some cases, molecules called guide RNAs (gRNAs) play a crucial role. The gRNAs contain sequences that are partly complementary to segments of the preedited RNA, and the two molecules undergo base pairing in these sequences (I Figure 14.18). After the mRNA is anchored to the gRNA, the mRNA undergoes cleavage and nucleotides are added, deleted, or altered according to the template provided by gRNA. The ends of the mRNA are then joined together.
In other cases, enzymes bring about base conversion. In humans, for example, a gene is transcribed into
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