NARILIS and BSCDB spring meeting gathered 140 students and researchers around the fascinating world of “non-coding RNA”

Non-coding RNA has become a hot topic in the field of life sciences! Less than 2% of the human genome accounts for protein-coding sequences. The vast majority of the genome is transcribed into non-coding RNA (ncRNA). While these transcripts were considered for years as “junk”, it is now becoming clear that some of these molecules have important biological functions. Evidence accumulated over the past decade indicates that many ncRNAs have the capacity to act as key regulators of gene expression. Moreover, an increasing number of ncRNAs have also been associated with various human diseases.

On March 18, 2022, NARILIS and the Belgian Society for Cell and Developmental Biology (BSCDB) organized a scientific day devoted to this emerging discipline (. This fascinating field attracted ~140 master students and researchers from several Belgian universities (UCLouvain, ULB, UMons, ULiège, UNamur, VUB, KU Leuven and UGhent) and neighboring countries to the UNamur. Seven invited keynote speakers shed light on the functional properties of regulatory ncRNAs in diverse biological and physiopathological contexts. Dr. Antonin Morillon (Institut Curie, Paris) opened the conference with a review of the very extensive literature on ncRNA. He further reported the discovery of unexpected translation of long ncRNAs into micropeptides, as well as their studies on the potential use of ncRNA as urinary biomarkers for prostate cancer. Prof. Eleonora Leucci (KU Leuven) discussed the role of long ncRNAs in melanoma and their implication in immunotherapy resistance. The lecture of Prof. Denis Lafontaine (ULB) recapped the basics of the ribosome, this essential cellular nanomachine which converts mRNA into protein. He then provided insight into how dysfunction of ribosome biogenesis inevitably leads to severe disease. In the afternoon, Dr. Julieta Aprea (TU Dresden) presented her postdoctoral research aiming to decipher the role of a novel long ncRNA called B13 during cerebral cortical development. Prof. Pierre Close (ULiège) showed that codon-specific mRNA translation reprogramming through regulation of wobble tRNA modification promotes cancer development, metastasis and resistance to therapy. Dr. Sébastien Pfeffer (University of Strasbourg) shared his work on the characterization of the regulation of virus-encoded microRNAs. The scientific day was closed with the talk of Prof. Pieter Mestdagh (UGhent) who pointed out their efforts to identify functionally relevant ncRNAs in cancer and to dissect the mechanisms by which they operate.

In addition, young researchers also actively contributed to the event, with six short talks and a dynamic poster session. Irène Talon, PhD student at Vincent Pasque Lab for Epigenetic Reprogramming (KU Leuven) was awarded the Best Short Talk for her brilliant communication entitled “X chromosome dosage compensation: a lncRNA-mediated regulation". The Best Poster prize was assigned to "tRNA 2’-O-methylation and brain development” presented by Mira Brazane, PhD student in the team of Clément Carré and Laure Teysset (Sorbonne Université, Paris).
The organizers would like to thank all participants, speakers, poster presenters, as well as the UNamur, the FNRS and our four sponsors (ACD, Bio-Rad, CliniSciences and Promega) for contributing to this successful and inspiring meeting!

Pictures by C. Swijsen and V. van Scherpenzeel