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RNA double helix structure identified using synchrotron light

Posted on August 27, 2013
RNA double helix structure identified using synchrotron light

RNA double helix structure identified using synchrotron light
Structure of poly (rA) duplex showing the two strands in orange/yellow and green/blue. Ammonium ions that stabilize the structure are shown as black balls. Credit: Kathryn Janzen, Canadian Light Source

When Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the double helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953, their findings began a genetic revolution to map, study, and sequence the building blocks of living organisms.

DNA encodes the genetic material passed on from generation to generation. For the information encoded in the DNA to be made into the proteins and enzymes necessary for life, ribonucleic acid (RNA), single-stranded genetic material found in the ribosomes of cells, serves as intermediary. Although usually single-stranded, some RNA sequences have the ability to form a double helix, much like DNA.

In 1961, Alexander Rich along with David Davies, Watson, and Crick, hypothesized that the RNA known as poly (rA) could form a parallel-stranded double helix.

Fifty years later, scientists from McGill University successfully crystallized a short RNA sequence, poly (rA)11, and used data collected at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron to confirm the hypothesis of a poly (rA) double-helix.

The detailed 3D structure of poly (rA)11 was published by the laboratory of McGill Biochemistry professor Kalle Gehring, in collaboration with George Sheldrick, University of Göttingen, and Christopher Wilds, Concordia University. Wilds and Gehring are members of the Quebec structural biology association GRASP. The paper appeared in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition under the title of “Structure of the Parallel Duplex of Poly (A) RNA: Evaluation of a 50 year-Old Prediction.”

Read more at: Phys.org

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