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Science  07 Jan 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5450, pp. 7
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5450.7c

Long dismissed as DNA's bland cousin, RNA is now attracting attention for talents that go beyond serving merely as a template for making proteins. Bits of RNA are under study as catalysts, as targets for drugs, and even as possible players in the origin of life. As with proteins, structure dictates function for these single strands of nucleotides. Need to know the shape of a particular folded RNA molecule? Run your sequence past Michael Zuker's RNA pages.

Several hundred requests to fold a molecule arrive each day, says Zuker, a biomathematician at Washington University in St. Louis. His algorithm, which assumes an RNA molecule will relax into the least energy-demanding pose, churns out illustrations of possible two-dimensional structures along with graphs of their energy states. Users can also browse Zucker's lectures on RNA folding or ask him a question in the site's guestbook. Still not satiated? Follow external links to RNA-oriented databases, journals, and texts—such as the intro to the 1993 book The RNA World, which describes the era before DNA, in which RNA may have performed the roles of DNA and enzymes. Other links dispense more software. The Universität Bielefeld in Germany, for example, offers folding animations: Watch an RNA molecule stretch, jiggle, and bend into a shape resembling an off-kilter vase.∼zuker/rna

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