World scholars gather at York U. to assess the power of small RNAs and other biological breakthroughs


TORONTO, February 26, 2003 -- The discovery of the power of a class of RNA molecules to control cell activity has been hailed as the science breakthrough of 2002, prompting biologists to revamp their view of the cell and its evolution.

Martin Gorovsky of the University of Rochester, and York University graduate student Noah Fine are among the scientists who contributed to the discovery. Prof. Gorovsky will discuss this work and its implications at the 30th annual biology symposium, Model Organisms in Biology, at York University, Saturday, March 8, organized by the Association of Graduate Students in Biological Sciences.

Research on the ability of small RNAs to operate many of the cell’s controls, from shutting down genes or altering their expression to actually shaping genomes, could have profound implications in disease prevention and control. Called RNA interference (RNAi), the phenomenon has been shown to drive changes in gene expression known as epigenetics that persist across one generation or more without changing the DNA code. Science magazine dubbed the discovery the science breakthrough of the year.

Working with the single-celled microorganism, Tetrahymena, Post Doctoral Fellow Kazufumi Mochizuki in the Gorovsky laboratory in collaboration with Fine and Japanese scientist Toshitaka Fujisawa have found that small RNAs guide deletion or reshuffling of some DNA sequences as a cell divides. "One can imagine the benefits of being able to silence specific viral RNAs or cancer causing genes, or affecting the mobility of genetic elements," said Fine, whose work in Prof. Ron Pearlman’s laboratory in the department of biology at York is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Internationally renowned researchers presenting at the symposium include: York alumna Cecilia Moens of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, University of Washington, Seattle; Michael Tyers and Joseph Culotti of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, University of Toronto; Christopher Somerville, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford University; Daniel Eberl, University of Iowa; Mario Capecchi, University of Utah School of Medicine and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Salt Lake City. Discussions will focus on the genomic revolution and the model organisms that have been central to our understanding of how cells divide, grow and develop.

The symposium is open to the public and will convene at 9 a.m. in the Moot Court at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Keele campus, 4700 Keele St. For a detailed program check the Web site at: and find links to the program.


For further information, please contact:

Dr. Ronald Pearlman, Director Noah Fine Jamie Kwan
Core Molecular Biology Facility Biology Dept. Biology Dept.
York University York University York University
416-736-5241 416-736-2100, ext. 66633 416-736-2100, ext. 20063

Susan Bigelow
Media Relations
York University
416-736-2100, ext. 22091