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Astrophysicists use the term "dark matter" to describe the majority of the matter and/or energy in the universe that is hidden from view, and biologists now apply it to the new families of RNA they are uncovering. We review evidence for an analogous hidden world containing peptides. The critical experiments involved pulse-labeling human cells with tagged amino acids for periods as short as five seconds. Results are extraordinary in two respects: both nucleus and cytoplasm become labeled, and most signals disappear with a half-life of less than one minute. Just as the synthesis of each mature mRNA is regulated by the abortive production of hundreds of shorter transcripts that are quickly degraded, it seems that the synthesis of each full-length protein in the stable proteome is regulated by an apparently wasteful production and degradation of shorter peptides. Some of the nuclear synthesis is probably a byproduct of nuclear ribosomes proofreading newly-made RNA for inappropriately-placed termination codons (a process that triggers "nonsense-mediated decay"). We speculate that some "dark-matter" peptides will play other important roles in the cell.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





281 - 286


RNA turnover, open-reading frame, protein turnover, translation, uORF, Humans, Open Reading Frames, Proteins, RNA