WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Long known as messengers, transcribers and translators for DNA, the hard-working family of RNA molecules may also serve as chauffeurs.
Peixuan Guo, professor of molecular virology at Purdue University, has found that a virus known as Bacteriophage Phi 29 uses six RNAs strung together in the shape of a hexagon to create a motor that transports DNA in the virus.
His findings were published in the July issue of the scientific journal Molecular Cell. A review covering this study also appears in the July 24 issue of Cell.
Guo's findings represent the first example of a hexagonal-shaped RNA complex. It is also the first example of transportation vehicles using RNA as building blocks.
Information from the study may someday be used to develop nanoscale devices and will also improve scientists' understanding of how cells transport large molecules through barriers such as membranes.
In the study, Guo's lab found that Bacteriophage Phi 29, a virus that infects one type of bacteria, uses six RNA to form a hexagon that acts in a manner similar to a six-cylinder car engine to drive DNA into the outer shell of the virus.
Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and ribonucleic acid, RNA, are biological molecules that allow organisms to reproduce. While DNA holds the genetic material, RNA carries out a number of functions, including the synthesis of proteins specified by DNA.
Guo says that Bacteriophage Phi 29 is typical of double-stranded DNA viruses in that its genetic material is packaged into its protein shell, or capsid, during maturation.
"All linear double-stranded DNA viruses, including herpes viruses, adenoviruses, pox viruses and the double-stranded DNA bacteriophages, package their genomic DNA into a pre-formed protein shell," he says. "What makes Phi 29 unique is that it is the first virus to be reported to use RNA as a component of the transportation machine to drive this process."