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This was December 2015, and I’d spent four months swiping right (but mostly left) on Tinder.It had yielded three good dates, one of which turned into a thing that was not exactly a thing.Morcos, also an assistant professor of biological sciences, has developed powerful statistical methods to handle the immense volumes of data required to build a model that quantifies the space of a trillion possible RNA structures, and reveals which ones are better candidates for functional interactions.He describes this method as providing “a large number of pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle,” allowing the team to predict adjacent pieces from contextual clues.“If the experiments cannot capture the exact RNA structure that evolution selected for interactions, it informs the model on how to infer those structures,” he said.Virtually all functions in our bodies require precise interactions between radically different types of molecules.The vast majority of the time, these encounters yield nothing, but a special few sustain life as we know it. Faruck Morcos and Zachary Campbell at The University of Texas at Dallas are pursuing what differentiates a fruitful encounter from a dud — a mystery with long odds similar to finding a soul mate among the metaphorical millions of fish in the sea.But when we combine this with the statistical models developed in my lab, we can fill the gaps in this sampling, and really quantify an enormous space of possibilities.”Campbell spoke of the wide range of potential uses for the data they’ve gathered.“This allows us to sketch out which partnerships are the most likely to occur, teaching us about how selectivity is achieved, and hopefully enabling us to improve on what has naturally evolved,” he said.For Campbell and Morcos, the goal is to design new types of pharmacological agents that impede undesirable interactions that lead to disease or mimic the beneficial ones.“With an understanding of how recognition between partners occurs, we may learn a great deal about human physiology, as well as viral and bacterial genomes and liaisons that could be disrupted to improve human health,” Campbell said.
“Still, this is just a fraction of the complete genetic cartography.“Not only that, we can also predict pieces that have never been used through evolution, but that can potentially lead to a functional interaction.”Morcos emphasized how technological advances in big-data computing have enabled their project to succeed.“This is novel in that cutting-edge, high-throughput experimental capabilities and next-generation sequencing have allowed us to more quickly explore an abundance of possibilities and parameters,” he said.“Using clever approximations, we can essentially solve a problem that had been computationally impossible.”Morcos said that the strength of their project comes from what he and Campbell each bring to the table.“Dr.The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and startup funds provided by the University.
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Depending on their structure, some RNAs play roles beyond that of messenger.