I am interested in leveraging RNA’s unique structural properties to assist in deciphering basic biology and designing new in vivo nanotechnology.
Unlike proteins, whose secondary and tertiary structures are deeply intertwined, RNAs fold in near-discrete steps, first forming secondary structural motifs and then forming interactions between these motifs to produce the final 3D structure. A large body of biochemical work has demonstrated that much of RNA’s tertiary structure results from the interactions between discrete components known as RNA 3D motifs (Figure 1). Motifs are well-defined geometric arrangements of interacting nucleotides. Based on the limited number of characterized motifs, researchers have built large, complicated structures, including fabrics and polyhedra. By harnessing this strategy, which is already employed by nature, it is possible to build large, complex structures by assembling together motifs from a large family of structural elements, such as helices, hairpins and internal loops, whose high-resolution crystallographic structures are already available.
My long-term goal is to utilize a diverse set of 3D motifs and cutting-edge algorithms to design a new set of synthetic RNAs that will better illuminate the basic properties of RNA 3D structure and can be used to create RNA nano-machines that perform a wide array of novel tasks.