Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015
Structure-function Studies of RNA Thermosensors Using Selective 2´-Hydroxyl Acylation Analyzed by Primer Extension (SHAPE)
So many things go on inside living cells that we still don’t completely understand. For example:
“RNA was once regarded primarily as an intermediary between DNA blueprints and protein machines,” says Rachel M. Mitton-Fry, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Denison University. “But recent research has increasingly challenged this limited perception, uncovering unprecedented roles for RNA in areas as disparate as adaptive immunity in bacteria and regulation of gene expression.”
Mitton-Fry has received a Cottrell College Science Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to study RNA elements known as "RNA thermosensors,” which are thought to affect expression of the messenger RNAs in which they reside in direct response to temperature change. (RNA is synthesized from a DNA template during a process known as transcription; messenger RNA, also called mRNA, transfers genetic information from the cell nucleus to the cytoplasm, where it serves as a template for protein synthesis by ribosomes –protein builders.)
Most known RNA thermosensors are produced in bacteria. They have been found in certain mRNAs that encode proteins involved in the heat-shock response or pathogenic virulence, although Mitton-Fry notes “vast numbers of novel RNA thermosensors likely await discovery throughout biology.”
RNA thermosensors seem to work by changing their molecular structure in response to temperature fluctuation, thus blocking or exposing regions of the mRNA that are important for translation. Specifically Mitton-Fry and her students are trying to understand how the structure of RNA thermosensors affect their behavior in regulation of gene expression.