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Stanford researchers make first direct observation of 3-D molecule folding in real time
Date:2/14/2008

nothing. Sometimes, though, this snarl of loops and hairpins works as a riboswitch. The RNA begins to bundle up while it is being made, so the jumbled portion is attached to a tail still under construction. The riboswitch must have a tertiary structure, because it likes to make a pocket and grab small molecules. When a riboswitch clutches the right molecule, it folds up even more tightly, tugging on its own incipient long tail and changing its shape in a way that will affect its eventual protein product. That RNA tail usually has a hairpin fold that straightens out when pulled. By tugging out this kink in the RNA, a riboswitch changes how the RNA is translated into protein, effectively turning the gene on or off.

The riboswitch Block's team studied grabbed onto a molecule called adenine, the nucleic acid dubbed "A." Whenever the riboswitch gripped a free-floating adenine, a gene that makes a protein crucial to adenine production stopped working correctly. The RNA responsible for translating it to the protein had changed shape. The riboswitch regulated how much adenine was available in the cell; when there was plenty, it shut down the adenine factory. Before scientists discovered riboswitches, they thought only proteins controlled genes this way. "Your average RNA at random is not going to do that," Block said. "These are highly evolved things."

The closest look

The researchers who study molecular folding in Block's lab cannot actually see an RNA molecule under the microscope, but they can see two polystyrene beads; they attach one on either end, and that creates a dumbbell shape the laser beams can manipulate. Their largest beads are 1,000 nanometers across, so 1,000 of them lined up would be a millimeter long. The beads are enormous relative to the RNA, and so are the lasers holding them. To keep the lasers from coming too close together and merging their light into a single beam, the researchers need to attach some extra length t
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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