It is well established that cells can chemically modify DNA to dynamically modulate transcription. This phenomenon, together with histone protein modification, is known as epigenetic regulation of gene expression and is regulated by a variety of factors, including developmental cues and environmental stimuli. Alterations in epigenetic control have a role in several complex diseases. While the field was born in the ‘70s, the expansion of epigenetics only began with the availability of complete mammalian genome sequences at the beginning of this century.
A strong epigenetics community is now active in Europe, supported in its growth by a number of EU funding schemes. In the 70s it was also recognized that RNA is subjected to extensive covalent modification, and studies in the late ‘80s revealed the widespread deamination of bases (termed RNA editing), which can lead to recoding if it occurs within exons. Spectacular growth in the RNA modification field occurred during the past seven years, with the discovery of an extensive layer of base modifications in mRNAs, which can influence gene expression and has been already shown to be involved in primary cellular programs such as stem cell differentiation, response to stress, and the circadian clock1.
The study of RNA modifications and their effects is now referred to as epitranscriptomics, and it reveals striking similarities to what is known for epigenomics. Hence, this emerging field is important, both in terms of basic science and potential application to human disease. Comprehensive epitranscriptomic analyses will provide the missing link between genomic variability and cellular phenotype, contributing to elucidating the cause of specific diseases and developing novel therapies. We need to rapidly create a European framework to integrate and accelerate both research efforts and industrial applications in the emerging field of epitranscriptomics2.
In the frame of this major European need, ROPES specifically aims at training a group of competitive Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) which will join a network of academic research groups and biotech companies focused on advancing the knowledge on the role of RNA modifications on different diseases and models, and in promoting the development of innovative therapies.