Studies on Telomerase and Other Noncoding RNPs
Telomerase is an enzyme responsible for the replication of telomeric DNA repeats that protect and stabilize the ends of human chromosomes by preventing degradation, end-to-end chromosomal fusions, and chromosomal rearrangements. It is a ribonucleoprotein (RNP), composed of essential protein (TERT) and noncoding RNA (TR) subunits. Telomerase activation occurs in approximately 90 percent of cancer cells, while telomerase insufficiency has been associated with several diseases, including aplastic anemia. The Cech Lab is using biochemistry, cell biology, and CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to study the activation and function of telomerase in human cancer cells. The lab is also using similar techniques to study other long noncoding RNAs and their protein partners. A key system is Polycomb Repressive Complex 2, a histone methyltransferase that modifies histone H3 protein, leading to epigenetic gene silencing.