Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2017
Harnessing Small Molecule Receptors to Identify Patterns in RNA Structure
Ribonucleic acid, RNA, is present in all living cells. Until recently, RNA molecules were thought to be mostly messengers, carrying instructions from the nucleus, or center, of the cell on how to make proteins, the workhorses of cell biology. Scientists now have discovered that the RNA molecules themselves can influence much of what happens in the cells, including the initial steps of embryonic development and the progression of metastatic cancer.
Thus, researchers have questions regarding RNA’s biochemistry, including a basic one: How do small molecules and protein recognize certain RNA molecules over others?
Amanda E. Hargrove, chemistry, Duke University, has received a Cottrell Scholar Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to develop a “receptor library,” a collection of small molecule receptors that connect with RNA structures to make patterns that will allow researchers to quickly and precisely determine RNA shape and illuminate how RNA and other molecules recognize the perfect fit.
Hargrove and her associates will convert the RNA structures into fluorescent biosensors to develop a pattern-recognition system. These RNA biosensors will attach to other molecules and glow, or fluoresce, when hit by various wavelengths of light. The researchers will also use cheminformatics, sophisticated methods for data mining and performing statistical analysis of large datasets in chemistry, to create their small molecule library.
The Cottrell Scholar Award also has an education component. As Hargrove perfects techniques to identify patterns in RNA structures, she will incorporate these tools into research-based teaching to provide more laboratory experiences for undergraduate students in biochemistry and chemical biology. Under her new program, students will design hypothesis-driven experiments to test the binding of small molecules to a range of RNA sequences.