Biological Physics @ CMU

The Biological Physics Initiative
Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Physics

Mike Widom's research in the area of Biological Physics

Secondary structure and function of noncoding RNA

The "central dogma" of molecular biology states that DNA is transcribed into RNA, then RNA gets translated into proteins which carry out the important work of life. Recent discoveries show that RNA is not just a simple "messenger" in this process. Much of the transcribed RNA encodes no protein but instead regulates the expression of other genes. Many special functions of RNA depend on its ability to fold into specific "secondary" structures, or to fluctuate between a variety of alternate structures. Widom and coworkers use statistical mechanics to elucidate the secondary structural ensemble in order to understand the function of microRNAs and riboswitches.

Alternate configurations of the xpt riboswitch. Left: When the aptamer forms (green stem) this triggers the terminator to also form (red stem), and as a result the gene (not shown) is switched off. Right: If the aptamer does not form then the terminator is not formed, and the gene is switched on.




Lab members involved in this research

  • Ben Sauerwine (grad student)


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