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Gregory Hannon on microRNAs

February 11, 2010

Tuesday night’s Secret Science Club speaker was Gregory Hannon, a molecular biologist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Hannon is a pioneer in the field of RNA interference, a field about which I know almost nothing, hence my decision to attend the talk. His hour-long lecture focused on “microRNAs,” small snippets of RNA that play a big role in gene regulation. I ate a cupcake while my friend quietly sipped a “cell-o-bration” — the night’s drink special. Together we tried to absorb the material.

I know more now than I did yesterday, but still not enough. Rather than trying (and failing) to explain the gist of Hannon’s lecture to you, I’ll let you listen to the audio yourself. Topics he covered include: RNA interference, microRNAs, cancer, devil facial tumor disease (the contagious cancer that is killing Tasmanian devils), and more. One thing I found particularly interesting is the origin of RNA interference. Hannon said the system likely evolved as a way to search out and destroy viruses, which often have double-stranded RNA. Now cells exploit this defense mechanism to attack their own RNA.

Here’s the cool video that Hannon showed us on RNA interference near the beginning of his talk if you want to follow along.

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