We have known for decades that long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) can play essential functions across most forms of life. The maintenance of chromosome length requires an lncRNA (e.g., hTERC) and two lncRNAs in the ribosome that are required for protein synthesis. Thus, lncRNAs can represent powerful RNA machines. More recently, it has become clear that mammalian genomes encode thousands more lncRNAs. Thus, we raise the question: Which, if any, of these lncRNAs could also represent RNA-based machines? Here we synthesize studies that are beginning to address this question by investigating fundamental properties of lncRNA genes, revealing new insights into the RNA structure-function relationship, determining cis- and trans-acting lncRNAs in vivo, and generating new developments in high-throughput screening used to identify functional lncRNAs. Overall, these findings provide a context toward understanding the molecular grammar underlying lncRNA biology.
Keywords: MPRNA; RNA grammar; RNA in vivo; RNA structure; RNA–protein interactions; lncRNA; long noncoding RNA; massively parallel RNA reporter gene assays; nuclear localization.