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RNA Folding

Originally commission by the Ithaca Science Center for "Too Small Too See" -- an exhibit on nano-technology.

"RNA Folding" is a cartoon simulation of an RNA molecule. RNA, like DNA, is a linear polymer that can encode information but, unlike DNA, it forms single-stranded chains which can reach back and base-pair with themselves. This permit RNAs to form stable structures which can act as catalysts. Indeed, life probably began as self-copying RNA.

In this exhibit, participants can pull apart an RNA molecule with their hands and watch as it spontaneously refolds into its native conformation. The simple message is that it take energy to disrupt a folded molecule into a shape other than its native fold. Removing that energy allows the molecule to go right back to its favorite shape.


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