DATABASES: Home Base for RNA

Science  11 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5617, pp. 223d
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5617.223d

Long dismissed as DNA's errand boys, RNA molecules have emerged as cellular big shots that catalyze reactions, throttle viruses, and help regulate genes. Scientists investigating these multitalented nucleic acids will find a trove of information on their structure and evolution at the Comparative RNA Web Site, curated by molecular biologist Robin Gutell of the University of Texas, Austin.

The site focuses on ribosomal and transfer RNAs, which help build proteins, and the group I and II introns, which can act as catalysts. One highlight is the collection of secondary structure diagrams, which illustrate how more than 400 different varieties of RNA molecules twist, turn, and fold back on themselves. The section on nucleotide frequency and conservation compares RNA sequences within major groups of organisms, pinpointing stretches that change little during evolution and are usually associated with vital tasks. For each of these RNAs, summary tables show the amount of variation at different positions in the molecule. To track RNA evolution, you can superimpose the changes onto a phylogenetic tree.

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