The Structure and Nonfunction of RNA
By studying how the structural components of RNA interact, and how the molecule performs the remarkable feat of self-assembling, scientists have uncovered new details about the chemical evolution of RNA.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) exist in every living cells and plays numerous roles in living organisms. It’s most well-known duties are to help transport information and to participate in regulating how and when genes are expressed. RNA is believed to be one of the key molecules necessary for life as we know it.
The “RNA World” Hypothesis – Jack Szostak (Harvard/HHMI) Credit: iBioEducation(YouTube)
In recent decades, many studies have shown that RNA can perform a number of additional functions in cells. Studying the details of RNA’s structure and how it assembles can help shed light on whether or not its role in cellular reactions has changed over time.
There are many nuances in how structural components of RNA ultimately assemble into a molecule. The ways in which they assemble determine whether or not the molecule is capable of participating in certain reactions. Sometimes, the molecule assembles in such a way that it is rendered useless, or nonfuctional. These nonfunctional RNA molecules are what the research team turned to for their study. By comparing nonfunctional RNA molecules to functional ones, scientists were able to uncover new clues about how RNA molecules could have evolved over time at the chemical level.
The study, “RNA as an Emergent Entity: An Understanding Gained Through Studying its Nonfunctional Alternatives,” was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the NASA Astrobiology Program under the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution.