My general biology students were asked yesterday to check out eteRNA, an interesting online game designed around problems of RNA folding. RNA is a fascinating molecule for a number of reasons.
- What we might think of immediately, mRNA as an information carrying molecule, is just one of its many jobs.
- In addition to this, RNA serves as a delivery molecule in the form of tRNA. These molecules are capable of both ‘reading’ the mRNA message, through codon:anti-codon interactions, and they also recruit and deliver Amino Acids that correspond to the codon in question.
- RNA also functions as ribozymes, enzymes comprised entirely, or in part, of RNA. An example of this is the ribosome that is mostly rRNA with only a small protein contribution.
EteRNA explores the plasticity of RNA function by demonstrating the capacity of this molecule to fold into a variety of shapes. As I frequently remind my class, FORM DICTATES FUNCTION. This is true of all things in biology (and perhaps beyond). When a molecule is formed correctly, it carries out its function appropriately. When that form is altered due to mutation, misfiling or other denaturing processes, the function is also altered. This may be for better or worse, but mostly for worse. Depending on this function, the ‘fitness’ of the cell for survival / reproduction may be affected leading to selection for or against this cell.
I set up a group titled: FortScott_Treml that I invite my students (or anyone else) to join. For my students, anyone who completes the the tutorials will receive 5 extra credit points. Anyone who earns a puzzle master badge will earn another 5.