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New chemical tool to study RNA structures inside cells

Posted February 1, 2018

University of California, Irvine scientists have created a new chemical tool that can analyze RNA structures within living cells. The technique could facilitate a better grasp of how RNA structures fold and form in cells, as well as help in the design of drugs targeting RNA.

Robert Spitale, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, Filipp Furche, professor of chemistry, doctoral student Dalen Chan, postdoctoral scholar Chao Feng and colleagues describe their study results in an advance online publication on the Nature Chemical Biology website.

Under the guidance of Robert Spitale (right), UCI assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, postdoctoral scholar Chao Feng (center) and doctoral student Dalen Chan (left) devised a chemical technique for mapping RNA structures inside cells. Image credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

Many RNA functions are controlled by the formation of specific structures, so it’s important that scientists understand each component, particularly when it comes to cancer prevention research. “If structures are wrong, they can cause diseases,” Chan noted.

Currently, Spitale said, “there are only a handful of indirect methods used to explore RNA motifs – and most of those only work outside cells.”

The novel chemical tool developed by the UCI team lets biologists study RNA components, such as binding proteins and binding sites, inside cells in a controllable manner. “The structures react with the chemical probe, allowing us to re-create them based on the chemistry we discover,” Feng explained.

The researchers are working on additional tools utilizing this technique to examine the structures of thousands of RNA molecules in parallel through deep sequencing.

Source: UC Irvine

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