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Purdue researchers connect life's blueprints with its energy source

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A publication-quality graphic of a microscopic motor assembled by Peixuan Guo's team is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/guo.atp.jpeg.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Purdue University research team that recently created a tiny motor out of synthetic biological molecules has found further evidence that RNA molecules can perform physical work, a discovery that could advance nanotechnology and possibly solve fundamental mysteries about life itself.

Purdue's Peixuan Guo has discovered how viral RNA molecules bind an energy-bearing organic molecule known as ATP. While linking these two substances might seem to create no more than a longer string of letters, the upshot is that now one of life's most mysterious and ancient storehouses of information can be moved by one of its most important fuels. The discovery could shed light on the fundamental role RNA plays in the creation of living things.

"RNA could be even more of a key player than we realize," said Guo, professor of veterinary pathobiology in Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine. "The fact that it can be made to bind ATP in the phi29 virus could imply that these two molecules were among the first to partner in Earth's dance of life."

On a more practical level, the discovery could have immediate technical applications - such as driving a Lilliputian motor of the sort Guo's team has recently constructed.

"I think RNA can be made to do mechanical work," he said. "ATP binding could power a motor made of six strands of RNA, and we are now exploring the myriad possible applications of such a tiny mechanism."

The research appears in the February Journal of Biological Chemistry.

DNA, RNA and ATP are substances long known to be central to life's processes, but knowledge about their many functions in living things is still emerging. Several years ago, scientists were stunned by the
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
3-Feb-2003


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