Glycosylated RNAs upend cell biology as we know it

ICYMI: I just came across a few articles on this. I thought it was really interesting. I guess you all can tell me how big of a deal this new discovery is, since I have no idea :slight_smile:

It looks like the pre-print was shared earlier here. Sugar-coated RNAs could ‘alter the face of biochemistry as we know it’—if

@swamidass I thought it was cool the researcher is a physician scientist as well.

The textbook-changing discovery of glycoRNAs was fortuitous. Flynn, who was trained in RNA biology, joined Bertozzi’s lab, which focuses on glycoscience, to better understand how glycans work. Bertozzi and others have for decades used tools from bioorthogonal chemistry, a field Bertozzi’s lab pioneered, to examine protein and lipid glycans on the cell surface.

“At the time, there was no intersection known between the RNA world and the glycan world. They were two separate areas of biology,” says Bertozzi.

Flynn became fascinated with glycans, and paired Bertozzi’s tools with methods that detect RNAs. “I joined together two spheres of information, initially with not much to go on,” he says.

Flynn began by labeling RNAs and glycans with special probes. To his surprise, the glycan probes kept turning up with RNAs — albeit very tiny RNAs, among the smallest that exist. He and Bertozzi thought at first there must be an artifact or contaminant in their samples. But Flynn confirmed the finding through a battery of experiments.

Once he proved that glycoRNAs are real, Flynn next showed that glycoRNAs are concentrated at the cell surface, just like glycoproteins and glycolipids — and ready to interact with other cells. He now wants to figure out how RNAs and glycans are able to hook up, since they traditionally inhabit different compartments of the cell.


Fascinating discovery, thanks for sharing! Likewise, I have no idea of the import of this discovery…

Gah. It “upends” cell biology by… adding the RNA to the repertoire of known types of extracellular signaling molecules. That’s like “upending” transportation by finding you can change the color of the headlights on your car.


You’re no fun. :neutral_face::laughing:


I teach an RNA Biology course in Fall semesters of odd years. I had students check out this Bertozzi paper in 2019 - I think it’s pretty cool!


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