Chromatin and non-coding RNAs

Dr David Carter


The Human Genome Project has revealed that only ~2% of the genome is composed of protein-coding genes. The activity of these genes is tightly regulated during the development of multi-cellular organisms. This is in part controlled by the structure of the DNA-protein complex known as chromatin. Chemical modifications of chromatin also regulate which of the genes, encoded by DNA in the nucleus, will be transcribed into the messenger RNA molecules that travel to the cytoplasm to be copied into protein. The control of chromatin status is of particular interest, as it is often disturbed in diseases such as cancer.

Remarkable recent finding have shown that despite the genome’s paucity for genes, most of a cell’s DNA is transcribed into RNA. However, most of this RNA does not go on to produce proteins and is therefore known as non-coding RNA (ncRNA). These ncRNAs were at first thought to be a non-specific ‘noise’. Wide-spread transcription of ncRNAs is now known to occur in all species tested thus-far, and is therefore likely to represent a fundamental process in biological systems. Indeed, examples of ncRNAs with specific roles in a range of developmental processes have been described. Precisely what these RNAs do and how they work is one of biology’s current hot topics. We are investigating the role of non-coding RNAs in regulating gene expression via the modulation of chromatin structure.


The role of non-coding RNAs in the regulation red blood cell development
Red blood cell development is a complex developmental process that involves significant changes in gene expression. In this project we are investigating how ncRNAs alter the structure of chromatin at different genes involved in the process.

The role of non-coding RNAs in the regulation of cancer progression
The roles of ncRNAs are many and diverse, and include the regulation of cell growth. Therefore when certain key ncRNAs are mutated, or their expression is altered, this can lead to cancer. We are investigating the role of ncRNAs in a range of human tumours.



  • Action Medical Research
  • The Dunhill Medical Trust
  • British Society for Haematology
  • Cancer and Polio Research Fund
  • Oxford Brookes University


  • Dr Peter Fraser , Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK
  • Dr Conrad Bessant, Cranfield University, UK
  • Professor Robert Brown, Imperial College, London, UK
Genome track


Dr David Carter
+44 (0) 1865 484216