RNA Molecule Research
By: Eva Saville
“I believe that the greatest growth and learning comes through pushing through roadblocks and doing problem solving to figure out how to fix your experiments and determine what your data mean,” says Sean Georgi, Assistant Professor of Biology.
Alianna Landry ’22 and Jazzlyn Grenier ’21 have been working with Sean Georgi, Assistant Professor of Biology, on research into different types of the molecule RNA. (Readers might have seen RNA in the news lately as the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines both use RNA).
Georgi offers a brief explanation of their research so far. “For many decades scientists thought that the primary role of an RNA molecule is to act as instructions for making a protein,” he says. “Up until recently, it was thought that all functional RNA molecules are straight lines (linear). Our research is trying to identify circular RNAs that don’t make proteins that are important in the developing nervous system. We believe that they may play an important role as uncommitted cells (like stem cells) start converting into neurons. To do this, we remove RNA molecules from cells before and after they turn into neurons and then look for circular RNAs whose levels change.”
Continuing their research
To continue this work, Georgi encouraged Landry and Grenier to apply for a grant from the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences. They worked together to expand the scope of their project. After the grant was reviewed by faculty at other colleges and universities, they received their award at the end of the 2021 Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences conference, which was also hosted online by YCP.
Their research requires special cells called PC-12 cells; this grant was fundamental to their research, as Georgi says, “We did not have these cells available at YCP, so Ali and Jazzy wrote this grant to obtain funds to purchase these cells.”
Landry and Grenier both understand the importance of their work. Grenier states, “Our research could indicate that a novel genetic material had an influence in the development of a cancerous neural cell.” Landry believes that “Of course, this research won’t result in a cure for anything, but finding genes that impact the normal development of cells can build a foundation for future research.”
They have had moments where results were confusing or they needed to go back and do more research when faced with a problem. Through it all they have remained persistent and hope to help understand the role of these circular RNAs they study in the development of PC-12 cells, while also learning more about the process of working in a laboratory.
Landry, Grenier, and Georgi have immense appreciation for all that made their work possible. Georgi recognizes that their work builds upon the research of many former students. Both Landry and Grenier offer thanks to Georgi for the encouragement and assistance he has offered them throughout the process. They’re also both extremely grateful for this experience at YCP. Grenier states, “Conducting biology research at York College has been an exceptional learning opportunity and has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my education."