Research in our group is focused on understanding the function and mechanism of small RNAs in host-pathogen systems, with a particular interest in small RNA turnover and trafficking.
Our work to date has largely focused on one specific class of small RNAs, microRNAs, which are ~22 nt RNA molecules that regulate gene expression by binding to specific mRNA transcripts, causing the mRNAs to be degraded or causing their translation to be repressed. The majority of human protein-coding genes are under selective pressure to maintain microRNA binding sites in their 3’UTRs and these small RNAs are therefore a ubiquitous and integral component of signaling pathways. Some viruses can produce their own microRNAs and also use or inhibit cellular microRNAs during their life cycles. We have a long-standing interest in understanding these viral-host interactions towards the long term goal of using microRNAs to improve and supplement existing therapeutic strategies.
In the last 5 years we have extended our research to the study of extracellular RNA, including microRNAs and other small RNAs. This was initiated by our finding that parasitic nematodes secrete RNAs and these can be found in host fluids. This opens up many questions regarding the mechanisms by which RNAs are exported and imported into cells and the RNA-protein (RNP) complexes involved. This has also required that we invest time learning about the field of extracellular vesicles since this is one route for RNA export/import.
We are a part of the Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution and are based in the new wing of the Ashworth laboratories, King’s Buildings. We are a part of Edinburgh Infectious Diseases which links investigators working in the area of infectious disease across several campuses in Edinburgh.