Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


RNA double helix structure identified using synchrotron light

Scientists prove 50-year-old hypothesis of RNA “higher-order” structure

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

A rendering of the poly (rA)11 RNA double helical structure

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, serve as intermediary. Although usually single-stranded, some RNA sequences were predicted to 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 based on the results of fibre diffraction experiments.

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 Dr. Kalle Gehring, McGill University, in collaboration with George Sheldrick, University of Göttingen, and Christopher WIlds, Concordia University. 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.”

“After 50 years of study, the identification of a novel nucleic acid structure is very rare. So when we came across the unusual crystals of poly (rA), we jumped on it,” said Dr. Gehring.

Gehring said identifying the double-helical RNA will have interesting applications for research in biological nanomaterials and supramolecular chemistry. Nucleic acids have astounding properties of self-recognition and their use as a building material opens new possibilities for the fabrication of bionanomachines – nanoscale devices created using synthetic biology.

“Bionanomachines are advantageous because of their extremely small size, low production cost, and the ease of modification,” said Gehring. “Many bionanomachines already affect our everyday lives as enzymes, sensors, biomaterials, and medical therapeutics.”

Dr. Gehring added that proof of the RNA double helix may have diverse downstream benefits for the medical treatments and cures for diseases like HIV and AIDS, or even to help regenerate biological tissues.

“Our discovery of the poly (rA) structure highlights the importance of basic research. We were looking for information about how cells turn mRNA into protein but we ended up answering a long-standing question from supramolecular chemistry.

For the experiments, Gehring and a team of researchers used data obtained at the CLS Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility (CMCF) to successfully solve the structure of poly (rA)11 RNA.

CMCF Beamline Scientist Michel Fodje said the experiments were very successful in identifying the structure of the RNA and may have consequences for how genetic information is stored in cells.

“Although DNA and RNA both carry genetic information, there are quite a few differences between them,” said Dr. Fodje. “mRNA molecules have poly (rA) tails, which are chemically identical to the molecules in the crystal. The poly (rA) structure may be physiologically important, especially under conditions where there is a high local concentration of mRNA. This can happen where cells are stressed and mRNA becomes concentrated in granules within cells.”

With this information, researchers will continue to map the diverse structures of RNA and their roles in the design of novel bionanomachines and in cells during times of stress.

Reference: Safaee, N., Noronha, A. M., Rodionov, D., Kozlov, G., Wilds, C. J., Sheldrick, G. M., & Gehring, K. (2013). Structure of the Parallel Duplex of Poly (A) RNA: Evaluation of a 50 Year‐Old Prediction. Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

About the Canadian Light Source:

The Canadian Light Source is Canada’s national centre for synchrotron research and a global centre of excellence in synchrotron science and its applications. Located on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon, the CLS has hosted 1,700 researchers from academic institutions, government, and industry from 10 provinces and territories; delivered over 26,000 experimental shifts; received over 6,600 user visits; and provided a scientific service critical in over 1,000 scientific publications, since beginning operations in 2005.

CLS operations are funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Western Economic Diversification Canada, National Research Council of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Government of Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan.

Synchrotrons work by accelerating electrons in a tube at nearly the speed of light using powerful magnets and radio frequency waves. By manipulating the electrons, scientists can select different forms of very bright light using a spectrum of X-ray, infrared, and ultraviolet light to conduct experiments.

Synchrotrons are used to probe the structure of matter and analyze a host of physical, chemical, geological and biological processes. Information obtained by scientists can be used to help design new drugs, examine the structure of surfaces in order to develop more effective motor oils, build more powerful computer chips, develop new materials for safer medical implants, and help clean-up mining wastes, to name a few applications.

Dr. Kalle Gehring | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus
19.03.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one
19.03.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

TIB’s Visual Analytics Research Group to develop methods for person detection and visualisation

19.03.2018 | Information Technology

Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

19.03.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>