As the volume of genomic data grows, the challenge moves towards making sense of it. Iowa State University recently launched an online database that they hope will bring such data into sharper focus.
The work, which was documented in a recently published paper, allows researchers to rapidly access data on the RNA structures within a human genome. The database, which is freely available online, aims to give scientists access to the functions and structure of RNA at the touch of a button. The team hope that the service will enhance the way treatments that target RNA are developed.
“RNA is fundamental to understanding biology, and advances in sequencing technology have led to an explosion in the list of potentially functional RNAs,” the team say.
For instance, it’s believed that 70% of the 3.5 billion base pairs in human DNA are transcribed into RNA, versus just 2% for protein. Despite this importance, our understanding of RNA is still sparse. The team hope, therefore, that their tool will prove to be invaluable in helping to explore those largely uncharted waters.
“Anyone around the world can now retrieve with one click what once took hours of calculations to determine,” they say.
It will be interesting to monitor the progress of the tool, and especially it’s adoption by the industry.
Gamification of RNA
Of course, they aren’t the only project aiming to help us better understand RNA. One of the more well known is Eterna, the citizen science game whereby players help to advance our understanding of RNA.
A recent paper highlights how citizens are playing an ever increasing role in scientific research.
“We see that in particular researchers in the natural sciences have collected and classified data with the help of interested volunteers. In the social sciences, there has been a focus on inviting select parts of the public to find out the effects of science on people’s everyday lives. This may for example concern environment problems and risks,” the authors say.
The study itself was written by three experienced Eterna players. They syndicated their thoughts into a Google document before then sharing that with researchers at Stanford University, where they were independently tested on the university’s supercomputers.
The paper marks an important evolution in how studies are conducted, as the study was neither guided or collated by expert scientists.
The paper finds that RNA modules that are symmetrical, pleasing to the eye and fold stably are fiendishly difficult to design. Indeed, the more symmetrical, the harder it is to design.
Eterna boasts some 100,000 players, so this kind of insight and analysis is increasingly possible.