Light-based innovation for the biosciences

A major advance in RNA imaging.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is an important molecule that has long been thought of as a simple cellular messenger. However, it is now clear that this molecule is involved in several biological processes important for life. RNA has been found to perform several biological functions through the formation of complex three-dimensional structures. Recently, the teams of Carlos Penedo (St Andrews University, COB) and Daniel Lafontaine (University of Sherbrooke) discovered how to observe the birth of RNA structures during their synthesis, and this, in real time!

By introducing small fluorescent molecules into the nascent RNA strands, the team succeeded in establishing a new experimental method to observe the formation of RNA structures at the same time as they are being synthesized by the RNA polymerase. Although the need for such an approach was mentioned more than 15 years ago, no technique has been available until now to unravel the mystery of observing the transient structures adopted by nascent RNAs. Thanks to this scientific breakthrough, it will now be possible to study biological phenomena previously inaccessible. In addition, this new approach will allow us to learn more about the importance of RNA structures that are found in bacteria and viruses as well as in humans.

This work has been published in Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.  2021 118 (45) e2106564118