Brant Gracia | Cutting RNA Molecules
Explaining my Research
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules canonically function in the process of genetic transduction. More specifically, production of proteins, the cells primary molecules, is carried out by different RNA molecules including messenger RNA, transfer RNA, and the ribosome. As such, the role of RNA in the cell cannot be underestimated. In contrast, over the last 20 years RNA has been found to be a much more diverse molecule than was previously thought. Indeed, RNA molecules function in numerous processes including but not limited to protein synthesis, genetic silencing, and genome splicing. In order to function, these RNAs must fold to an active 3-dimensional structure, but RNAs have a propensity to misfold into non active long lived structures. In traversing folding pathways, RNA molecules become trapped in local energy minimum misfolded RNA structures which are long lived and inactive.
To probe the folding process of RNA, my research focuses on the self-catalytic group I intron mitochondrial Large Subunit intron (mtLSU) in the organism Neurospora Crassa. Group I introns have autonomous splicing activity in vitro, but require protein splicing factors and chaperons in vivo. One such protein is the Neurospora Crassa tyrosyl tRNA synthetase Cyt18. This protein is required for splicing activity of mtLSU. Cyt18 binds and stabilizes the mtLSU native conformation relative to misfolded conformations and fluid non-compact structures. Further investigation of Cyt18 and its interaction with N.C. mtLSU will elucidate additional information about in vivo RNA folding, and its interaction with cognate proteins.
How did you become involved with “Present your PhD Thesis to a 12 year-old” project?
As a scientist and educator, teaching has always been my passion. My previous work in outreach has included involvement in the AVID program in Bryan/College Station, and tutoring with the brainfuse network. After moving and joining the UT graduate school, I began looking for additional opportunities to teach and convey science to the public. I have become involved in the Present your Ph.D. thesis to a 12 year-old project--because a fellow lab mate recommended it--with an opportunity to teach science to the next generation of young minds in the Austin and surrounding areas.
What is your goal introducing such a project/topic to young students?
Like many others, my goal is to convey my excitement and enthusiasm for science, but not in the conventional sense. In the public school system here in Austin, exposure to scientific research is limited. As a result, students are not aware that such a field exists when in fact their interest in science simply requires nurturing. I became involved in scientific research much later than most during my undergraduate career, but since then my enthusiasm for science has grown tremendously. My desire is that students in Austin, and around the world, are made aware of the possibilities and beauty a career in science has to offer.