Exploring RNA Modification: My Experience at the National Academies Ideation Challenge

August 23rd, 2023

Zohorul (Zahir) Islam was recently chosen to present at the ‘National Academies Ideation Challenge on RNA Modifications’ organised by the National Academy of Science in the United States.
Head and shoulders of a man.

Dr Zohorul Islam

Zahir is an early career scientist with the Immune Resilience FSP, based at our Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.

His FSP research is focused on tackling the issue of how to predict disease onset and severity of symptoms in patients with complex conditions associated with co-infection.

To do this, he will need to develop novel methods to study our immune system’s responses to infections at a molecular level.

We spoke to Zahir to find out more about his experience in the US National Academies Ideation Challenge.

The challenge: developing an RNA sequencing roadmap

“Scientists understand that cells use a set of coordinating mechanisms for regulation and homeostasis. One of these mechanisms used for regulation is to modify proteins, DNA and RNA to control cell structure, function and stability.

While we know a lot about modifications to proteins and DNA, there is less known about RNA modifications. This is partly because the available sequencing technologies can only detect a small number of these RNA modifications.

This limits the understanding of different molecular processes and leaves a gap in knowledge related to human diseases and disorders,” explained Zahir.

To address these limitations and develop a roadmap for sequencing of RNA with all its modifications, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine assembled an expert committee of 18 members.

Participating in the Ideation Challenge

As part of the Committee’s investigations, researchers were invited to submit ideas and challenges related to RNA modifications. In early April 2023, Zahir submitted his ideas and challenges, and was fortunate to be chosen as one of 50 participants from around the world to participate in the 2-day workshop ‘Toward Sequencing and Mapping of RNA Modifications: Ideation Challenge’.

“Participating in the workshop was extremely rewarding, despite the challenge of time zone differences which involved attending the sessions at night.

The program commenced with short presentations on emerging technologies and techniques. During this session, I not only presented my current research but I also gained knowledge from other presentations, discovering new tools and techniques in the world of RNA technology,” Zahir said.

“The highlight of the 2-day workshop was the Ideation Challenge, where various teams tackled specific challenges related to RNA modification sequencing and mapping. Guided by collaborative brainstorming, we worked together to address these challenges and contribute to the overall understanding of RNA modifications,” concluded Zahir.

The outcomes of these discussions have been included in a National Academies workshop proceeding, shaping the committee’s recommendations for future research directions.

You can read more about the National Academies project at “Toward Sequencing and Mapping of RNA Modifications’.