Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Purdue researchers connect life’s blueprints with its energy source

04.02.2003


The Purdue University research team that recently created a tiny motor out of synthetic biological molecules has found further evidence that RNA molecules can perform physical work, a discovery that could advance nanotechnology and possibly solve fundamental mysteries about life itself.


One promising application of RNA-ATP binding is this microscopic motor, assembled by Peixuan Guo’s team at Purdue University. The motor, only a few nanometers wide, is formed by six strands of RNA surrounding an "axle" made of DNA. When fed a supply of ATP as fuel, the RNA molecules kick against the DNA in succession, much like the pistons in a conventional motor. (Graphic/Guo Laboratory)



Purdue’s Peixuan Guo has discovered how viral RNA molecules bind an energy-bearing organic molecule known as ATP. While linking these two substances might seem to create no more than a longer string of letters, the upshot is that now one of life’s most mysterious and ancient storehouses of information can be moved by one of its most important fuels. The discovery could shed light on the fundamental role RNA plays in the creation of living things.

"RNA could be even more of a key player than we realize," said Guo, professor of veterinary pathobiology in Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine. "The fact that it can be made to bind ATP in the phi29 virus could imply that these two molecules were among the first to partner in Earth’s dance of life."


On a more practical level, the discovery could have immediate technical applications – such as driving a Lilliputian motor of the sort Guo’s team has recently constructed.

"I think RNA can be made to do mechanical work," he said. "ATP binding could power a motor made of six strands of RNA, and we are now exploring the myriad possible applications of such a tiny mechanism."

The research appears in the February Journal of Biological Chemistry.

DNA, RNA and ATP are substances long known to be central to life’s processes, but knowledge about their many functions in living things is still emerging. Several years ago, scientists were stunned by the discovery that some forms of RNA – well-known as the "messenger molecule" that carries instructions between DNA strands in a cell’s nucleus – could serve as a catalyst for important chemical reactions in the body. The discovery of these RNA catalysts, called ribozymes, convinced many scientists that RNA probably existed on earth before DNA or complex proteins, the two other ingredient molecules necessary to create life.

"There are thousands of kinds of RNA in your body," Guo said. "Most varieties have an unknown function. When ribozymes were discovered, it taught us that RNA was probably responsible for the creation of other complex biological molecules. RNA might be more significant to life on earth than we imagined a few years ago."

Guo’s group has discovered another way that RNA might be the keystone for biological processes: they have found that it is able to bind adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is the crucial substance used to transfer metabolic energy in living things.

"You couldn’t live for one second without ATP," Guo said. "Your muscles, for example, are able to flex because an enzyme called ATPase binds the ATP molecule, breaking one of ATP’s chemical bonds and releasing the energy you use when walking or talking."

Guo theorizes that because RNA can also bind ATP, it might be not only life’s original seed molecule, but also able to direct the release of the energy needed to create life from that seed.

"We are just beginning to learn about RNA’s many functions," he said. "But it is possible that it plays a crucial role in metabolism, too. In that case, RNA would play a more central role in biology than we originally thought. We are seeking fundamental knowledge here."

It is uncertain whether the RNA in living things has ever directed any of ATP’s actions, but for the moment, Guo’s group has already found a way to make ATP move RNA around. His team has learned to assemble several strands of RNA into a hexagonally-shaped "engine" with a strand of DNA functioning as the axle. When fed a supply of ATP fuel, the RNA strands kick against the axle in succession, much like pistons in a combustion engine. Such minuscule motors could find applications in nanotechnology.

"The world’s smallest machines will need equally small motors to propel them," Guo said. "Ours uses organic molecules as fuel, so no special power source would need to be developed."

The motors could also be used not only to spin the DNA strand, but also as potential gene delivery vehicles. Guo’s team had already found that the motor could drive its axle into a virus’ protein shell, and has recently also learned that the ATP-binding RNA derived from the phi29 virus can deliver a ribozyme that destroys Hepatitis B. A paper detailing this work is forthcoming in the journal Gene Therapy.

"Delivering healthy genes or therapeutic molecules into damaged cells is the goal of gene therapy," Guo said. "With some modifications, we hope our research will enable us to deliver therapeutic molecules to cancerous or other virus-infected cells as well."

Guo’s current research is headed in this direction, but he emphasizes that more work also needs to be done on RNA’s fundamental capabilities.

"We would like to find other examples of how RNA operates in the body," Guo said. "We know from our research that RNA can be made to perform physical work in a viral system and in the laboratory, so it is possible that it is also involved in the transportation of components within cells."

Such ideas remain speculative for the moment, but Guo said that naturally occurring hexagonal loops of other RNA have been found performing protein transport in drosophila fly embryos.

"The RNA loops in these developing flies are similar to the loops we assembled," he said. "It’s a clue that we may be on the right track."

Funding for this research has been provided in part by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Writer: Chad Boutin, (765) 494-2081, cboutin@purdue.edu

Source: Peixuan Guo, (765) 494-7561, guop@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Chad Boutin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://news.uns.purdue.edu/UNS/html4ever/9808.Guo.RNA.html
http://www.jbc.org/cgi/reprint/M209895200v1.pdf

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

nachricht Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>