Graduate biology student Zachary Harris won first place in the Bioinformatics, Big Data category at the International Symposium of Grapevine Physiology and Biotechnology in Verona, Italy.
“We can think of the genome as the total genetic content of the organism. Embedded within that content is the instruction for making proteins,” said Harris. “Proteins are the molecules responsible for the phenotype—or trait or characteristic. In order to make these proteins, the genetic information passes through an intermediate step of RNA. So, RNA is made directly from the DNA instruction.”
Harris’ poster, “Long Non-Coding RNA Identification in Grapevine,” focused on research developing a computational pipeline, or a series of tools for data analysis, that could identify a specific form of RNA from a certain type of data set.
“Grapes represent the sixth largest fruit crop in the U.S., and they are the highest value fruit crop in the nation as well. As such, we want to understand as much as we can about what is happening to grapes, including that which happens on the molecular level,” said Harris. “Understanding the presence of these lncRNA could give us new insight to processes that we still don’t understand, or never even comprehended. This insight could lead to better, more productive crops.”
Answering evolution questions
The first part of the project focused on identifying lncRNA, and the second sought to answer questions pertaining to the evolution of these RNAs.
“The evolution of long non-coding RNAs is still an open question. In some species— like humans— they have been heavily assessed for function, but no attempt has been made to see how they change over time” said Harris. “As such, we have the ability to answer that question— at least in plants— over short evolutionary distance. Using our pipeline, we can even begin to answer the question over moderate and long-term evolutionary scales.”
The conference where Harris presented his poster brought together more than 300 attendees from more than 30 countries, all of whom were studying some form of grapevine physiology or biotechnology.