RNA Double Helix Structure Identified Using Synchrotron Light

When Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the double-helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953, their findings began a genetic revolution to map, study, and sequence the building blocks of living organisms. DNA encodes the genetic material passed on from generation to generation. For the information encoded in the DNA to be made into the proteins and enzymes necessary for life, ribonucleic acid (RNA), single-stranded genetic material found in the ribosomes of cells, serves as intermediary. Although usually single-stranded, some RNA sequences have the ability to form a double helix, much like DNA. In 1961, Alexander Rich along with David Davies, Watson, and Crick, hypothesized that the RNA known as poly (rA) could form a parallel-stranded double helix. Some fifty years later now, scientists from McGill University have successfully crystallized a short RNA sequence, poly (rA)11, and used data collected at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron to confirm the hypothesis of a poly (rA) double helix. The detailed 3D structure of poly (rA)11 was published by the laboratory of McGill Biochemistry professor Dr. Kalle Gehring, in collaboration with Dr. George Sheldrick, University of Göttingen, and Dr. Christopher Wilds, Concordia University. Dr. Wilds and Dr. Gehring are members of the Quebec structural biology association GRASP. The paper was published online on June 27, 2013 in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. “After 50 years of study, the identification of a novel nucleic acid structure is very rare. So when we came across the unusual crystals of poly (rA), we jumped on it,” said Dr. Gehring, who also directs the McGill Bionanomachines training program. Dr.
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