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Brief Funct Genomic Proteomic. 2009 Nov;8(6):407-23. doi: 10.1093/bfgp/elp038. Epub 2009 Sep 21.

Pervasive transcription of the eukaryotic genome: functional indices and conceptual implications.

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Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia.


Genome-wide analyses of the eukaryotic transcriptome have revealed that the majority of the genome is transcribed, producing large numbers of non-protein-coding RNAs (ncRNAs). This surprising observation challenges many assumptions about the genetic programming of higher organisms and how information is stored and organized within the genome. Moreover, the rapid advances in genomics have given little opportunity for biologists to integrate these emerging findings into their intellectual and experimental frameworks. This problem has been compounded by the perception that genome-wide studies often generate more questions than answers, which in turn has led to confusion and controversy. In this article, we address common questions associated with the phenomenon of pervasive transcription and consider the indices that can be used to evaluate the function (or lack thereof) of the resulting ncRNAs. We suggest that many lines of evidence, including expression profiles, conservation signatures, chromatin modification patterns and examination of increasing numbers of individual cases, argue in favour of the widespread functionality of non-coding transcription. We also discuss how informatic and experimental approaches used to analyse protein-coding genes may not be applicable to ncRNAs and how the general perception that protein-coding genes form the main informational output of the genome has resulted in much of the misunderstanding surrounding pervasive transcription and its potential significance. Finally, we present the conceptual implications of the majority of the eukaryotic genome being functional and describe how appreciating this perspective will provide considerable opportunity to further understand the molecular basis of development and complex diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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