UCI scientists develop new chemical tool to study RNA structures inside cells

Wed, 01/31/2018

Under the guidance of Robert Spitale (right), UCI assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, postdoctoral scholar Chao Feng (center) and doctoral student Dalen Chan (left) devised a chemical technique for mapping RNA structures inside cells.

Picture Credit: 
Steve Zylius / UCI
Michelle Mar
UCI News

Irvine, Calif., Jan. 31, 2018 – University of California, Irvine scientists have created a new chemical tool that can analyze RNA structures within living cells. The technique could facilitate a better grasp of how RNA structures fold and form in cells, as well as help in the design of drugs targeting RNA.

Robert Spitale, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, Filipp Furche, professor of chemistry, doctoral student Dalen Chan, postdoctoral scholar Chao Feng and colleagues describe their study results in an advance online publication on the Nature Chemical Biology website.

Many RNA functions are controlled by the formation of specific structures, so it’s important that scientists understand each component, particularly when it comes to cancer prevention research. “If structures are wrong, they can cause diseases,” Chan noted.

Currently, Spitale said, “there are only a handful of indirect methods used to explore RNA motifs – and most of those only work outside cells.”

The novel chemical tool developed by the UCI team lets biologists study RNA components, such as binding proteins and binding sites, inside cells in a controllable manner. “The structures react with the chemical probe, allowing us to re-create them based on the chemistry we discover,” Feng explained.

The researchers are working on additional tools utilizing this technique to examine the structures of thousands of RNA molecules in parallel through deep sequencing

The National Institutes of Health, The Pew Charitable Trusts and UCI provided key financial support for the study.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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