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The RNA Institute
Interdisciplinary Pilot Research Program
2010 Awards

The RNA Institute is pleased to announce the inaugural Interdisciplinary Pilot Research Program (IPRP) Awardees for the fiscal year 2010 (FY10). Below are the awardees and their project summaries.

The RNA Institute’s IPRP was established in 2009 to promote innovative and collaborative research focusing on RNA Science and Technology. The overall goal of the IPRP is to find and fund innovative, high-impact research with the potential of leading to external research funding or commercial applications. Specifically, the IPRP seeks to support early-stage interdisciplinary research involving two or three independent, faculty-level (or equivalent) PIs in different institutions. These investigators should use synergistic and complementary perspectives to address a problem or question in any area of basic and applied research related to RNA. The purpose of these awards is to generate seed data to position the collaborating PIs for successful submission of an external funding proposal for the project as collaborators within 18 months of the award.

Dr Dan Fabris, Chemistry and Biological Sciences

Genomic approaches have led to an explosion in the number of known RNAs, many of them function in the context of a ribonucleoprotein complex (RNP). However, the protein interaction partners for a given RNA are often unknown and, even if they are known, the details of their molecular contacts are typically low-resolution. Dr. Fabris will collaborate with Drs. Joseph Wade, Alain Laederach and Kathleen McDonough from the Wadsworth Center, NYS Department of Health, to develop an innovative approach that bridges the gap between genomic and structural studies of RNA. This method will combine high-throughput identification of RNA-protein interactions with high resolution mapping of RNA-protein interactions in RNPs. This work will greatly increase our understanding of RNAs, especially their mechanism of action in the context of RNPs.

Dr. Pan Li, Biological Sciences

Dr. Li’s multidisciplinary proposal addresses one of the bottlenecks of RNA biology, namely, how to predict three dimensional structures of RNA molecules based on the knowledge of the RNA sequences alone. Reliable methods already exist for predicting the structures of the basic elements of RNA structure, but it is much more challenging to predict how these elements interact to form more complexly folded structures. Knowledge of RNA structures is very important to gain insights into the RNA functions in the cell and also for possible therapeutic applications of RNA. Collaborating with Drs. Lori Goldner (UMass Amherst) and Daniel Aalbert (Williams College), Dr. Li will use state-of-the art single molecule spectroscopy equipment that he has built in his lab to gain information about tertiary folding by unfolding a set of RNA molecules whose structure is known. These data will be incorporated into structure modeling programs that will allow one to fold RNA in-silico.

Dr. Keith Earle, Physics

The interaction between the protein NCp7 with its target within the RNA genome of the human HIV-1 retrovirus, which causes AIDs, is essential to the life cycle of the virus and therefore the progression of the disease. Knowledge of the structure of this complex should facilitate the intelligent design of therapeutic reagents designed to stop the progression of the disease by disrupting the complex. However, determining the structure of such complexes by conventional methods is especially difficult due to the flexibility of the RNAs and the dynamic natures of the complexes. Dr. Earle will collaborate with Drs. Charles Scholes (UAlbany, Chemistry) and Jack Freed (Cornell University) to develop new methods for the determination of the structure of this protein-RNA complex using different types of electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy, which show greater promise for gaining information about the structures of such complexes than do the existing, more conventional methods.

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