A new study led by Northwestern University is revealing the mystery of how RNA molecules fold to fit inside cells and perform specific functions. The findings have the potential to help develop therapies for RNA-related diseases, including spinal muscular atrophy and possibly even a novel coronavirus.
“RNA folding is a dynamic process that is fundamental to life,” explains Julius B. Lacks of Northwestern, who led the study. “RNA is a really important part of diagnostic and therapeutic design. The more we know about the folding and complexities of RNA, the better therapies we can develop. ”
Using data from experiments on RNA folding, the researchers created the first-ever videos of how RNA, produced by cellular machinery, is folded. By reviewing videos of this folding, the researchers found that RNA often folds in unexpected ways – tying into knots and then immediately untied to return to its final structure.
“Folding occurs in your body more than 10 quadrillion times per second,” concludes Lax. “It happens every time a gene is expressed in a cell, but we know so little about it. Our videos allow us to finally see this folding for the first time.”