As much as 98 percent of the human genome consists of “dark matter”: sequences that don’t code for proteins or present immediately visible functions. But to Dr. Andrea Schorn, this dark matter is actually quite bright.
Schorn, with a Ph.D. on mobile DNA from the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, joins the CSHL faculty as a Research Assistant Professor. She joined Professor Rob Martienssen’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow and has since made important discoveries regarding the roles small RNA fragments play in protecting the genome.
Her research is centered around a class of retroviruses and transposable, mobile elements that have “hitchhiked off an essential and ancient machinery in the cell.” This includes non-coding RNAs, such as transfer RNAs, that are in all cells and are utilized by these retroelements for their proliferation but inhibit them when fragmented by the cell. “I’m trying to better understand why there are still so many transposable elements around in our genome, but also how they actually control the genome and how the genome controls them,” said Schorn. Understanding this interplay of equilibrium in the cell could shed light on early stages of disease development, and help create a worthy opponent to control threats from HIV-like retroviruses.
“I think you can really do science without borders here. CSHL is very international. I very much enjoy that. There’s very many different perspectives on one subject,” Schorn remarks. “It’s great to do science at a place that has so much history but is also cutting edge, so visitors and researchers alike are very much at center stage.”