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Medical College researcher to study gene transcription

July 11, 2012

The Medical College of Wisconsin received a four-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The grant will fund an investigation of the three-dimensional structure of the protein assembly that forms around RNA polymerase II (Pol II), the crucial enzyme that reads the genetic information stored on chromosomes and puts it into a form of biopolymer—RNA—that can then be used for protein synthesis.

Jianhua Fu, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry, is the principal investigator for the grant.

Pol II is responsible for “gene transcription,” which is the rewriting of the genetic code from DNA into RNA. RNA is responsible for providing the genetic information, or templates, used to make proteins. Those proteins carry out a vast array of biological tasks in the human body, such as the differentiation of stem cells into tissue during human development. Improper transcription is a common problem found in cancer cells that multiply excessively and become tumors.

Dr. Fu’s lab is interested in the 3-D structure of the Pol II machinery, which is the complex organized from several dozens of component proteins, because of its essential role in gene transcription. This investigation will use biochemical and molecular cloning techniques to generate samples for the study. The researchers will then utilize x-ray diffraction and computational methods to determine and verify structures of the protein complexes containing Pol II and regulatory proteins involved in transcription.

This research will improve our understanding of how gene transcription is regulated at a fundamental level. This work is an essential part of the world-wide research efforts to understand genetic regulation and its links to many forms of pathogenesis, particular diseases such as cancer that are resilient and resistant to current treatments.

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