URoL: Epigenetics 1: Collaborative Research: Novel epitransciptomics tools to understand and modulate interactions of modified RNAs with protein readers and erasers Grant uri icon


  • In cells of all living organisms, over 150 types of chemical modifications have been found on RNA molecules. The presence of RNA modifications can alter the function or stability of the RNA molecules. RNA modifications can be recognized by specialized proteins called readers, and they can be removed by other proteins called erasers. An unsolved question is how reader and eraser proteins distinguish one modification from another. This project seeks to address that question by using a combination of biophysical, computational, and protein engineering approaches. The results are expected to provide new insights into how RNA function is controlled by RNA modification, an underexplored frontier in molecular biology. In addition to the scientific impact, the research will provide educational experiences for two graduate students, who will be trained at the interdisciplinary intersection of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, as well as experimental and computational methods. The project will also promote engagement in STEM-related activities by undergraduates and by students in middle and high school, including those from underrepresented groups. As the field of RNA modifications has re-gained momentum, it is now understood that the abundance and effects of these modifications on RNA are determined by the dynamic interplay between so-called readers that bind the modifications and erasers that recognize RNA and catalyze removal of the modification. To understand how these proteins recognize and act on their substrates, an interdisciplinary approach, combining biophysical, computational, and engineering methods, will be taken. Two fundamental questions will be asked: (1) what RNA modifications can be recognized by specific protein readers and erasers, and (2) what biophysical properties are associated with reading versus erasing different RNA modifications? To address these questions, studies will be conducted to predict the rules whereby readers and erasers recognize a suite of RNA modifications and to validate the predictions by direct tests in cellular assays. The results will expand fundamental knowledge of the biophysical mechanisms of protein recognition, in the context of RNA modifications, and provide impetus for future design of synthetic schemes to control gene control by tuning levels of RNA modification in cells. This project is funded by the Understanding the Rules of Life: Epigenetics Program, administered as part of NSF's Ten Big Ideas through the Division of Emerging Frontiers in the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Co-funding is provided by the Molecular Biophysics Program, Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Directorate for Biological Sciences. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • 2020 - 2023