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The human body is composed of about 200 different cell types. The identity and function of these distinct cell types are precisely programmed by the regulatory networks encoded in the 3 billion base pairs of DNA that constitute the human genome. While 60% of our genome is transcribed, less than 2% of it is translated to proteins. In contrast to previous assumptions, this suggests that a significant majority of the regulatory information from the genome functions as RNAs, termed non-coding RNAs. Emerging evidence suggest that a substantial portion of these non-coding transcripts control myriad biological processes ranging from development to disease, establishing the vital role played by these RNA regulatory elements. We investigate how RNA regulatory elements program cellular identities during embryonic development, aging, and organ regeneration.

Our research: In the Kurian lab we investigate the physiological functions and molecular mechanisms by which lineage/tissue-specific long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) and RNA binding proteins (RBPs) modulate cardiac development, aging, and regeneration. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) remain the leading cause of death worldwide despite improved prognosis and etiological understanding. In addition, congenital cardiac disorders affect 0.8% of live births globally. Due to the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, it is crucial to gain an in-depth understanding of the genetic networks driving cardiac development and function, in order to devise strategies to combat CVDs and engineer regenerative strategies.

Our goals: Our long-term goal is to determine how RNA regulatory networks program and reprogram specific cellular identities. The focus is currently on the following questions:

· Is early embryonic development regulated by lncRNAs?

· How are lineage-specific lncRNAs regulated?

· How do lncRNAs drive lineage commitment and specify cellular identities?

· What is the role of cell type-specific lncRNAs in cardiovascular aging?

· What is the role of lncRNAs and RBPs in cardiovascular regeneration?

· How do lncRNAs contribute to evolution at the level of developmental and molecular complexity?

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