Advances in RNA aptamer technology to better understand gene expression mechanism

Until now, researches focused on the discovery of genes associated with disease development. Exact mechanisms of gene expression are yet to be discovered, and technology used in this study are only beginning to receive attention.

Recently, scientists discovered the association between gene expression and lifestyle factors including eating and sleeping habits. Some studies revealed that gene expression can change due to environmental factors, ultimately resulting in the development of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Follow up studies also unveiled that altered genetics due to lifestyle changes can also affect the next generation.

Sarah Woodson, a biophysicist at John’s Hopkins University, studies changes in genetic expression on a molecular level. One of her research areas is on light-up RNA aptamers, which is an efficient technology in tracking RNA sequencing.

RNA aptamers are short, single-stranded sequences of RNA that bind to various molecules such as proteins. They have high affinity and specificity, meaning that each type of aptamers binds to specific type of molecule.

Woodson and her team have developed RNA aptamers that bind to fluorescent proteins. Fluorescence intensity increases as the aptamers bind to the dyes, enabling the scientists to track the interaction between RNAs and various molecules.

Woodson predicts that light-up RNA aptamers will be useful in monitoring the formation of RNA-protein aggregates which can potentially cause diseases including cancer and Alzheimer’s. The research team now aims to apply light-up RNA aptamers in reading long RNA sequences and address how common genetic modifications of the RNAs are within the cell by tracking RNA-protein aggregates.

References:

  1. C. Plaschka, et al. Transcription initiation complex structures elucidate DNA opening. Nature. 2016
  2. Yi Zhang, et al. Diet and the epigenome. Nature Communication. 2018
  3. Esther Landhuis. Technologies to watch in 2020. Nature. 2020
  4. Arthur Korman, et al. Light-controlled twister ribozyme with single-molecule detection resolves RNA function in time and space. PNAS. 2020