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 Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs
16.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Cholera bacteria infect more effectively with a simple twist of shape
13.01.2017 | Princeton University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Energy-Efficient Building Operation: Monitoring Platform MONDAS Identifies Energy-Saving Potential

16.01.2017 | Trade Fair News

Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

16.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

Sensory Stimuli Control Dopamine in the Brain

13.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>