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1.  Helix Capping in RNA Structure 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93664.
Helices are an essential element in defining the three-dimensional architecture of structured RNAs. While internal basepairs in a canonical helix stack on both sides, the ends of the helix stack on only one side and are exposed to the loop side, thus susceptible to fraying unless they are protected. While coaxial stacking has long been known to stabilize helix ends by directly stacking two canonical helices coaxially, based on analysis of helix-loop junctions in RNA crystal structures, herein we describe helix capping, topological stacking of a helix end with a basepair or an unpaired nucleotide from the loop side, which in turn protects helix ends. Beyond the topological protection of helix ends against fraying, helix capping should confer greater stability onto the resulting composite helices. Our analysis also reveals that this general motif is associated with the formation of tertiary structure interactions. Greater knowledge about the dynamics at the helix-junctions in the secondary structure should enhance the prediction of RNA secondary structure with a richer set of energetic rules and help better understand the folding of a secondary structure into its three-dimensional structure. These together suggest that helix capping likely play a fundamental role in driving RNA folding.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093664
PMCID: PMC3972237  PMID: 24691270
2.  The Fragmented Mitochondrial Ribosomal RNAs of Plasmodium falciparum 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38320.
Background
The mitochondrial genome in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum is most unusual. Over half the genome is composed of the genes for three classic mitochondrial proteins: cytochrome oxidase subunits I and III and apocytochrome b. The remainder encodes numerous small RNAs, ranging in size from 23 to 190 nt. Previous analysis revealed that some of these transcripts have significant sequence identity with highly conserved regions of large and small subunit rRNAs, and can form the expected secondary structures. However, these rRNA fragments are not encoded in linear order; instead, they are intermixed with one another and the protein coding genes, and are coded on both strands of the genome. This unorthodox arrangement hindered the identification of transcripts corresponding to other regions of rRNA that are highly conserved and/or are known to participate directly in protein synthesis.
Principal Findings
The identification of 14 additional small mitochondrial transcripts from P. falcipaurm and the assignment of 27 small RNAs (12 SSU RNAs totaling 804 nt, 15 LSU RNAs totaling 1233 nt) to specific regions of rRNA are supported by multiple lines of evidence. The regions now represented are highly similar to those of the small but contiguous mitochondrial rRNAs of Caenorhabditis elegans. The P. falciparum rRNA fragments cluster on the interfaces of the two ribosomal subunits in the three-dimensional structure of the ribosome.
Significance
All of the rRNA fragments are now presumed to have been identified with experimental methods, and nearly all of these have been mapped onto the SSU and LSU rRNAs. Conversely, all regions of the rRNAs that are known to be directly associated with protein synthesis have been identified in the P. falciparum mitochondrial genome and RNA transcripts. The fragmentation of the rRNA in the P. falciparum mitochondrion is the most extreme example of any rRNA fragmentation discovered.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038320
PMCID: PMC3382252  PMID: 22761677
3.  A Comparison of the Crystal Structures of Eukaryotic and Bacterial SSU Ribosomal RNAs Reveals Common Structural Features in the Hypervariable Regions 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e38203.
While the majority of the ribosomal RNA structure is conserved in the three major domains of life – archaea, bacteria, and eukaryotes, specific regions of the rRNA structure are unique to at least one of these three primary forms of life. In particular, the comparative secondary structure for the eukaryotic SSU rRNA contains several regions that are different from the analogous regions in the bacteria. Our detailed analysis of two recently determined eukaryotic 40S ribosomal crystal structures, Tetrahymena thermophila and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and the comparison of these results with the bacterial Thermus thermophilus 30S ribosomal crystal structure: (1) revealed that the vast majority of the comparative structure model for the eukaryotic SSU rRNA is substantiated, including the secondary structure that is similar to both bacteria and archaea as well as specific for the eukaryotes, (2) resolved the secondary structure for regions of the eukaryotic SSU rRNA that were not determined with comparative methods, (3) identified eukaryotic helices that are equivalent to the bacterial helices in several of the hypervariable regions, (4) revealed that, while the coaxially stacked compound helix in the 540 region in the central domain maintains the constant length of 10 base pairs, its two constituent helices contain 5+5 bp rather than the 6+4 bp predicted with comparative analysis of archaeal and eukaryotic SSU rRNAs.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038203
PMCID: PMC3364965  PMID: 22693601
4.  Placement of attine ant-associated Pseudonocardia in a global Pseudonocardia phylogeny (Pseudonocardiaceae, Actinomycetales): a test of two symbiont-association models 
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek  2010;98(2):195-212.
We reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships within the bacterial genus Pseudonocardia to evaluate two models explaining how and why Pseudonocardia bacteria colonize the microbial communities on the integument of fungus-gardening ant species (Attini, Formicidae). The traditional Coevolution-Codivergence model views the integument-colonizing Pseudonocardia as mutualistic microbes that are largely vertically transmitted between ant generations and that supply antibiotics that specifically suppress the garden pathogen Escovopsis. The more recent Acquisition model views Pseudonocardia as part of a larger integumental microbe community that frequently colonizes the ant integument from environmental sources (e.g., soil, plant material). Under this latter model, ant-associated Pseudonocardia may have diverse ecological roles on the ant integument (possibly ranging from pathogenic, to commensal, to mutualistic) and are not necessarily related to Escovopsis suppression. We test distinct predictions of these two models regarding the phylogenetic proximity of ant-associated and environmental Pseudonocardia. We amassed 16S-rRNA gene sequence information for 87 attine-associated and 238 environmental Pseudonocardia, aligned the sequences with the help of RNA secondary structure modeling, and reconstructed phylogenetic relationships using a maximum-likelihood approach. We present 16S-rRNA secondary structure models of representative Pseudonocardia species to improve sequence alignments and identify sequencing errors. Our phylogenetic analyses reveal close affinities and even identical sequence matches between environmental Pseudonocardia and ant-associated Pseudonocardia, as well as nesting of environmental Pseudonocardia in subgroups that were previously thought to be specialized to associate only with attine ants. The great majority of ant associated Pseudonocardia are closely related to autotrophic Pseudonocardia and are placed in a large subgroup of Pseudonocardia that is known essentially only from cultured isolates (rather than cloned 16S sequences). The preponderance of the known ant-associated Pseudonocardia in this latter clade of culturable lineages may not necessarily reflect abundance of these Pseudonocardia types on the ants, but isolation biases when screening for Pseudonocardia (e.g., preferential isolation of autotrophic Pseudonocardia with minimum-nutrient media). The accumulated phylogenetic patterns and the possibility of isolation biases in previous work further erode support for the traditional Coevolution-Codivergence model and calls for continued revision of our understanding how and why Pseudonocardia colonize the microbial communities on the integument of fungus-gardening ant species.
doi:10.1007/s10482-010-9427-3
PMCID: PMC2975052  PMID: 20333466
Attine ant-microbe symbiosis; Mutualism; Antibiotic; Secondary rRNA structure
5.  Fragmentation of the large subunit ribosomal RNA gene in oyster mitochondrial genomes 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:485.
Background
Discontinuous genes have been observed in bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotic nuclei, mitochondria and chloroplasts. Gene discontinuity occurs in multiple forms: the two most frequent forms result from introns that are spliced out of the RNA and the resulting exons are spliced together to form a single transcript, and fragmented gene transcripts that are not covalently attached post-transcriptionally. Within the past few years, fragmented ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes have been discovered in bilateral metazoan mitochondria, all within a group of related oysters.
Results
In this study, we have characterized this fragmentation with comparative analysis and experimentation. We present secondary structures, modeled using comparative sequence analysis of the discontinuous mitochondrial large subunit rRNA genes of the cupped oysters C. virginica, C. gigas, and C. hongkongensis. Comparative structure models for the large subunit rRNA in each of the three oyster species are generally similar to those for other bilateral metazoans. We also used RT-PCR and analyzed ESTs to determine if the two fragmented LSU rRNAs are spliced together. The two segments are transcribed separately, and not spliced together although they still form functional rRNAs and ribosomes.
Conclusions
Although many examples of discontinuous ribosomal genes have been documented in bacteria and archaea, as well as the nuclei, chloroplasts, and mitochondria of eukaryotes, oysters are some of the first characterized examples of fragmented bilateral animal mitochondrial rRNA genes. The secondary structures of the oyster LSU rRNA fragments have been predicted on the basis of previous comparative metazoan mitochondrial LSU rRNA structure models.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-485
PMCID: PMC2996981  PMID: 20813041
6.  The origin and evolution of the ribosome 
Biology Direct  2008;3:16.
Background
The origin and early evolution of the active site of the ribosome can be elucidated through an analysis of the ribosomal proteins' taxonomic block structures and their RNA interactions. Comparison between the two subunits, exploiting the detailed three-dimensional structures of the bacterial and archaeal ribosomes, is especially informative.
Results
The analysis of the differences between these two sites can be summarized as follows: 1) There is no self-folding RNA segment that defines the decoding site of the small subunit; 2) there is one self-folding RNA segment encompassing the entire peptidyl transfer center of the large subunit; 3) the protein contacts with the decoding site are made by a set of universal alignable sequence blocks of the ribosomal proteins; 4) the majority of those peptides contacting the peptidyl transfer center are made by bacterial or archaeal-specific sequence blocks.
Conclusion
These clear distinctions between the two subunit active sites support an earlier origin for the large subunit's peptidyl transferase center (PTC) with the decoding site of the small subunit being a later addition to the ribosome. The main implications are that a single self-folding RNA, in conjunction with a few short stabilizing peptides, formed the precursor of the modern ribosomal large subunit in association with a membrane.
Reviewers
This article was reviewed by Jerzy Jurka, W. Ford Doolittle, Eugene Shaknovich, and George E. Fox (nominated by Jerzy Jurka).
doi:10.1186/1745-6150-3-16
PMCID: PMC2386862  PMID: 18430223

Results 1-6 (6)